GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Star Trek Reviews

"Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages..."

For a complete list of all reviews, click here

For other media tie-in reviews see:

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer section, Star Wars section, and the Media Tie-In section, plus elsewhere.
For another Star Trek review, see my mini-series section for Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - Hearts and Minds
 

The Best of Star Trek 1991 (SC TPB) 240 pgs.

Best of Star Trek - cover by Jason PalmerReprinting: Star Trek (vol 1) #5, 24, 25, Annual #2, #3, Star Trek (vol 2) #10-12 (with covers)

by Mike W. Barr/Tom Sutton/Sal Amendola - Mike Barr/Dan Jurgens/Bob Smith - Diane Duane/Tom Sutton/Ricardo Villagran - Peter David/Curt Swan/Ricardo Villagran - Peter David/James W. Fry/Gordon Purcell/Arne Starr
Colours/letters: various. Editors: Marv Wolfman/Robert Greenberger

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by DC Comics

I haven't read many of DC's Star Trek comics, so I can't say how well this lives up to the name. I'll admit, I was generally underwhelmed, and the beautiful cover art, like with most of these Trek books, isn't exactly indicative of the interior art. But anyway...

The best pieces are:

The two-part "Double Blind" (#24, 25), a comical story by Diane Duane in the "Trouble With Tribbles" vein. It was admittedly pretty slight for its length (and when first published it was serialized over two months!) but was pleasant enough and induced a few chuckles, from a Horta as a Starfleet officer, to the physical appearance of some of the aliens.

And "Retrospect" (Annual 3) is an odd piece, neither adventure, nor even remotely science fiction, it's basically a romantic drama telling, in reverse chronology, of a life long love affair Scotty had (apparently inspired by a Harold Pinter play). It's reasonably -- and surprisingly -- effective. Peter David's dialogue had neever quite impressed me until here, and the glorious art by the late Curt Swan helps sell the piece immeasurably. Swan is, of course, the fellow who's understated realism helped an entire generation (or three) of comic readers believe Superman could fly far more than any motion picture did. The problem with "Retrospect", if scrutinized too closely, is that I didn't really feel the story contained many surprises. In a story like this -- particularly one using the format of telling the story in reverse (that is, each flashback is set earlier than the one before) -- you want a sense that the previous scenee takes on new, perhaps even different, meaning in light of new revelations. That rarely happens...except, perhaps, with the final (earliest?) scene.

"Mortal Gods" (#5) was certainly evocative of a Star Trek-style plot, with the characters tracking a Starfleet officer who went missing on an alien world. And it wasn't bad, but viscerally didn't quite work for me. While both "The Final Voyage" (Annual #2) (a thinly plotted tale by Mike Barr chronicling the last adventure of the crew's original five year mission, with them battling -- yawn -- Klingon bad guys) and the three-part epic, "The Trial of James Kirk", were too immersed in revisting Trek lore. This is particularly true of "The Trial of James Kirk", in which Kirk is put on trial...basically for being Kirk. There's no specific case that has to be unravelled or eleventh hour revelations. Rather it's basically just a stroll down memory lane...and is a bit blah, even tedious at times. Peter David doesn't even seem to have a point, with Kirk's final exoneration having nothing to do with anything that's pertinent to the trial. The dialogue is uneven, but there are some nice bits (a scene between Spock and his dad, albeit overlong, or Scotty at his nephew's grave) and some amusing jokes, but that's a problem. The story is basically light-hearted, with everyone cracking quips and jokes...it's like attending a party with people who think they're wittier than they are. And a lengthy scene between Uhura and another crewwoman talking about "men" seems more appropriate to a tete a tete between Wilma Flinstone and Betty Rubble than these 23rd Century astronauts.

My reviews are those of someone more familiar with the source material than the comic book versions. In other words, if you've never read a Star Trek comic my opinions might have greater weight than if you're already a fan. You see, I didn't enjoy much of this for reasons that are clearly established artistic/editorial decisions on the part of DC. Overall, with the exception of Curt Swan, I wasn't overly impressed with the art -- but it stands to reason others would disagree with that assessment. I felt the stories were too wrapped up in the Trek reality, dealing with Klingons and Starfleet, and not exploring strange new worlds -- again, a common trait, not just in DC's Star Trek, but many Trek novels as well. I was uncomfortable with some of the ideas: greater emphasis on militarism, and suggesting Klingons are genetically predisposed to being bad. I know fantasy and SF has long been (mis)employed as a way to indulge in ethnic stereotypes that would be considered offensive if directed at real groups, but it's still disquieting. And there's just an overall sense that, if these stories had been proposed as episodes of the original series, they probably would've been rejected. How fair all this is, I can't say. Maybe with artists more appealing to me, I would've found it easier to imagine the actors. Who knows?

Ultimately, there were only two stories here that I enjoyed: "Double Blind" and "Retrospect", (though "Mortal Gods" had its strengths). Even then, they were pleasantly enjoyable, rather than engrossing or riveting. Are these the best of DC's Trek? If so, it doesn't encourage me much to read further issues. And, stylistically and conceptually, there's more of The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager in some of these stories than Classic Trek.

Actually, I would argue a better choice than some of these would've been another Mike Barr written tale, published as Star Trek Annual #1 (1st series). Imagining Kirk's first adventure on the Enterprise, teamed with his predecessor Christopher Pike, Barr eschews the arch-militarism he often employs for an appealing science fiction adventure involving first contact. Just a thought.

Now, if there's one or two decent reads, maybe the book automatically gets a decent rating -- a bad story shouldn't detract from a good one. But there's that niggly value-for-money idea. I acquired this on sale, but looking at the "true" cover price, it seems pretty exorbitant for (in my opinion) only two decent reads -- comics that could probably be picked up at a local comic shop as back issues.

The collection also includes an editorial by editor Robert Greenberger which is surprisingly kind to the old Gold Key comic version, and an intro by Nicholas Meyer who directed one of the best of the Star Trek films ("The Wrath of Khan") and, to my mind, the worst ("The Undiscovered Country"). Meyer's piece is just a rehash of stuff he's written before, donning his hat of pseudo-Liberal sanctimoniousness and taking a swipe at Star Trek's "gun boat Republicanism"...carefully sidestepping the fact that he, more than anyone else, pushed Star Trek in a militaristic direction (and in an interview once acknowledged as such. There's a word for that: it starts with an "h", followed by a "y", then a "p"...)

Actually, what might be fun would be if DC, Marvel and Gold Key (or whoever owns Gold Key's catalogue these days) got together and released a joint "Best of Star Trek in the Comics" TPB that could reprint three (or so) issues from each of their Classic Star Trek series.

Cover price: $24.95 CDN./$19.95 USA (published by DC Comics)
 

Pocket Book Reprint / Marvel Illustrated Book
Star Trek Illustrated Book - cover Bob LarkinStar Trek Published in 1982 by Marvel Comics in Colour

Reprinting: Star Trek (1st Marvel series) #12, 11, 7 (1980, 1981)

Written by Martin Pasko, Alan Brennert, Tom DeFalco. Art by Luke McDonnell, Joe Brozowski, Mike Nasser. Inks Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson.
Colours: Carl Gafford. Letters: Joe Rosen, Ray Burzon. Editor: Louise Jones.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: a few times over the years


Unlike DC Comics' Star Trek series a few years later, which often employed multi-issue stories and continuing sub-plots, Marvel's early '80s version tended to go for self contained, one issue stories (though there was one or two two-parters). 

The best of the batch in this collection is the final story, "Tomorrow or Yesterday" (#7), thanks in part to the art by Mike Nasser and, especially, Kalus Janson's inks, which lend the thing a moody ambience. The story, a little more metaphysical than the average Trek episode, has the crew trying to rescue a planet's primitive inhabitants from a cosmic calamity, only to find the population a mass of paradoxes. It's a little more head trippy, kind of like Trek meets "2001: A Space Odyssey"...which is appropriate since Marvel's Star Trek followed on the heels of the first Trek movie, utilizing the same costume designs, and "Star Trek, the Motion Picture" can also be likened to "2001". 

"Like a Woman Scorned" (#11) is a decent enough read, with the Enterprise playing host to a New Age cult, a member of whom happens to be a jilted lover of Scotty's, and soon the ship starts being plagued by deadly apparitions. The plot seems like it could've been an episode of the original series. Except, shoe-hored into a comics' more limited pages, it lacks some of the depth and emotion an episode would've used to flesh out its proceedings. 

The first story, "Eclipse of Reason" (#12), has Kirk and party forced to board a federation starship whose crew, beings of pure mental energy, have gone insane. But since they control every aspect of the ship, it becomes one huge death trap. The emotion is supplied by the fact that Yeoman Rand has married one of the energy beings, but such emotional stuff is weakly handled (she seems awfully blase about the fact that her husband is now completely mad!). Basically an action piece, it struck me as the weakest of the three. 

I also just wasn't that fond of the art in either "Like a Woman Scorned" or "Eclipse of Reason", though it wasn't bad. Too bad they didn't include stories drawn by Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson, a pair who, in addition to adapting the movie over the first three issues, also did #4-6 (4-5 was a two parter, 6 was self-contained). They were one of the better Trek art teams, with Cockrum managing to capture the likeness of the characters in a casual way (as opposed to seeming like he was copying a still photo), while presenting the story in an active, comicbook manner (as opposed to just stiff talking heads) and Janson gave the whole thing a brooding, moody feel that is absent from most Trek comics, by any company. Another notable issue not collected here, in story and art (the latter by Gil Kane), was in Star Trek #15.

Ultimately, this is O.K. for a Trek fix, and the writers certainly seem comfortable with the characters and their interplay, but it's not perhaps anything exceptional. Although it is perhaps more truly evocative of Star Trek than many of the issues of DC's later version.

Marvel's Trek wasn't especially successful (running 18 issues), then DC landed the rights for a long, long run, then Marvel briefly got them again, and currently Wildstorm (a DC subsidiary) publishes irregular Trek stories.

Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden  1995 (SC GN) 96 pages

Written by William Shatner, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Pencils by Steve Erwin. Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti.
Colour: Gloria Vasquez. Letters: Willie Schubert.

Adapted from the prose novel.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

Written by William Shatner (the actor who portrayed Captain Kirk -- like you didn't know that) and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, this is based on their novel of the same name. I went into it with some cautious optimism because I liked "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier", the Trek movie Shatner directed and co-developed the story for. If you're into Star Trek (and you probably wouldn't be reading this review if you aren't) you'll know Star Trek V tends to engender extreme reactions -- fans either really like it, or detest it.

The Ashes of Eden is set shortly after the final movie featuring the entire original cast, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country". Kirk, suffering from a bout of melancholia, retires from Starfleet and takes up with a much younger woman named Teilani, a half-Klingon/half-Romulan, whose planet is in the midst of civil strife and needs Kirk's expertise. But the planet seemingly conceals two secrets. One secret is eternal youth, which appeals to the aging Kirk. The other secret is some sort of ultimate weapon, which appeals to the vestiges of the right wing conspiracy that wants to disrupt the newly-established peace between the Federation and the Klingons -- a conspiracy first seen in The Undiscovered Country. It probably helps to have a passing familiarity with that film to pick up on some of the references (but even then, the plot itself here stands on its own). Meanwhile Kirk's old crew is informed Kirk may have turned traitor and they set out to stop him.

There are spots where things seem jumpy, or stuff isn't adequately explained, which may or may not be a result of condensing a much longer novel. Heck, after one reading I wasn't precisely sure what the bad guys were trying to do. The funny thing is that it's good enough in other spots that I'm willing to believe it may make more sense a second time through, once you already know who's doing what and why and can pick up on the nuances (and after a later reading -- yeah, it made a bit more sense). Overall this is pleasingly enjoyable -- one of the best Classic Trek comic book stories I've read.

The emphasis is squarely on Kirk. That isn't to say the other characters aren't there, or don't have a lot to do -- they do! -- but the pivotal Kirk, Spock, McCoy triumverate is downplayed. That's definitely a drawback. Ironically, some of the best character scenes are not between Kirk and Spock & McCoy, but between Kirk and Scotty (who has hired on with Kirk). But there's an overall thoughtfulness in tackling Kirk that gives emotional depth to the story, in its portrayal of a man kind of at loose ends, needing a purpose to his life, and yet unsure himself if that need is making him blind to any subterfuge. Maybe because it's Shatner involved in writing about this character he's played so long, but it does feel more character intensive than a lot of Trek comics I've read.

Shatner even gets to eat his cake and have it, too, by narcissistically giving Kirk a romance with a much younger woman...even as other characters criticize the relationship as just a mid-life crisis. Besides, a little romance was often a big part of the original Star Trek series.

Though based on a novel, it condenses into a graphic novel fairly well, with tight scenes that easily evoke a motion picture, but not so tight that you lose the emotion. There are good scenes, and everything builds to the obligatory showdown. Shatner and the Reeves-Stevens (who've written a few non-Shatner Star Trek novels) conjure the regular characters so that you can "hear" the actors saying the lines. The end result gives you a weird little thrill as you can imagine it as a never seen Star Trek movie -- and a good movie to boot! Though, again, it's Spock and McCoy that seem the less well realized of all the regulars.

Steve Erwin's art is pretty good and evokes the actors quite well, without seeming too much as though he's just traced them from other, unrelated scenes. He does flatter the actors, though. The story's set after Star Trek VI, but everyone looks more like they did in Star Trek II!

Apparently some of the cast weren't entirely happy with Star Trek VI, Shatner included -- the movie which, while trying to seem Liberal and tolerant, ended up remaking the characters as right-wing bigots. In some respects this seems like Shatner having another go at the story. It's still about conspirators in Starfleet, but this time with Kirk and the gang squarely re-positioned as the Liberal good guys (the characters agreeing the Enterprise is not a "gunboat"), and the main bad guy a Starfleet officer, not a (stereotyped) Klingon. As such it's a more palatable story than The Undiscovered Country. It's also a little more "science fiction-y", what with the secret of Teilani's world -- unlike Star Trek VI which took the "it's a metaphor for the Cold War" so literally it barely seemed to have anything "fantastical" about it. Ashes of Eden also bears more than a few similarities to the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie that came out a few years later, "Star Trek: Insurrection", as well as the Star Trek novel, The Last Round Up. I don't know if Shatner and the Reeves-Stevens should be flattered, or annoyed.

Ultimately, though a bit choppy in spots, this is an intelligent, well-paced adventure, with twists and turns, some character scenes, witty quips, fist fights and starship battles. It's ironic that one of the best Trek-in-comics stories I've read is just an adaptation from another medium!

Cover price: $20.95 CDN. /$14.95 USA.



Star Trek: Debt of Honor - softcover cover by Dave Dorman

Star Trek: Debt of Honor  1992 (HC & SC GN) 93 pgs.

Written by Chris Claremont. Illustrated by Adam Hughes. Inked by Karl Story.
Colour: Tom McCraw. Letters: Robert Pinaha. Editor: Robert Greenberger.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

This story has the crew of the Starship Enterprise engaging in an unsanctioned rendezvous with some Romulans and Klingons, to combat a galactic enemy none of their governments acknowledges even exists. While, through flashbacks, we see how Captain Kirk gradually became aware of the menace...and of his relationship with a half-Vulcan, half-Romulan woman, T'Cel.

Probably the longest, non-serialized, (non-adaptation) comic ever based upon the venerable Star Trek TV series and movies, Star Trek: Debt of Honor is very much a fanboy's fantasy. Thanks to flashbacks, the story incorporates visual incarnations from the original Star Trek's entire run (even throwing in costume and set designs from Star Trek V, though the story is set immediately following Star Trek IV) as well as making reference to past events, and cameo appearances by a host of characters from the TV series. Chris Claremont obviously has a wealth of Trek lore at his fingertips.  In some cases I wasn't sure if the names of some minor characters were references to characters from the series, joke homages to SF authors, or none of the above. Of course, how well all this will read for only a casual fan is another question.

A lot of Star Trek comics I find are unimpressively illustrated. The pictures don't evoke the actors, and aren't well drawn to begin with. Not so with Star Trek: Debt of Honor. It's atmospherically illustrated by Adam Hughes and inked and coloured, while Chris Claremont is deemed an A-list comic writer (or at least a B+ one) who obviously has a lot of affection for the material.

The problem's in the plotting. The story's thin, spending a long time building to a confrontation that seems pretty anti-climactic when it finally arrives. The intellectual and emotional pull of the story stems from the heavy use of characters endlessly analyzing themselves and each other. Claremont isn't always the most subtle of writers, often not trusting his writing skill, or his readers, by allowing motivation to be gleaned through more plausible scenes and exchanges. As well, at the story's heart is the enigmatic T'Cel, who starts out intriguing (and sexy), but Chris Claremont (and Adam Hughes) fumble the ball, making her less so as the story progresses. In Star Trek movie fashion, Claremont tries to set up a theme (here involving survivor's guilt, regret, etc.), but loses his thread before the climax.

A minor subplot involving T'Cel's daughter is also curious. It's not hard to infer that the daughter is supposed to be Captain Kirk's...except there doesn't seem to have been time for such a, uh, union, in the flashbacks.

I'll admit my biases: though I've read a few novels and comics based on Star Trek over the years, rarely have I felt that the spirit of the series has ever been captured. Instead of exciting morality tales, rife with plot turns and twist endings, "boldly going" and all that, most Star Trek pastiches are basically just right wing cold war stories set in the "known" Trek universe, short on emotion, or surprises.

Star Trek: Debt of Honor, in the lexicon of the genre, is basically just a bug-hunt.

In that sense, perhaps it's intended as another fan dream made flesh: a "Star Trek meets the critters from the Alien movies" story (Chris Claremont was obviously deeply affected by the Alien movies, going by some of his X-Men stories from the early '80s).

There is some welcome liberalizing, with the teaming up of the three normally hostile cultures (and something a lot of the right wing pastiche writers would be horrified by), but it's still basically just a zap-the-bug-uglies philosophy.

Claremont also falls into the ubermensch school of Trekkiedom -- something I find a bit uncomfortable. Too whit: in the TV series, Captain Kirk and Spock were the best chess players on the ship...but we never knew how much, if any, competition they had. In pastiches, however, this has expanded to where they're practically the best damn chess players in the entire galaxy -- and now Claremont throws in the idea that Dr. McCoy is their equal! Can't a hero ever be second best in the minds of Trekkies? There wasn't any indication McCoy even played chess in the series!

In the end, thanks to the art by Adam Hughes and Karl Story (and the oversized, tabloid format allowing for some striking "shots" of the Enterprise), Chris Claremont's reasonably mature approach to the characters, and its length, Star Trek: Debt of Honor is certainly a welcome addition by those of us who wished Paramount had made more than just 6 movies with the original cast. It's certainly a better cap to the series than the dreadful Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It reads/plays like a Star Trek movie...just not one of the better ones.

By the by: I use the term "Trekkie" intentionally. I grew up with it, I like it, and the whole Trekkie-Trekker debate just seems...weird.

It was published in both hard and soft cover.

Original soft cover price: $17.50 CDN./$14.95 USA (published by DC Comics)

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