GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Star Trek Reviews - Page 2

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Star Trek, The Enterprise Logs #1 1976 (SC TPB) 224 pgs.
Recently re-released by Checker Publishing.

The Enterprise Logs 1 -  photo montage cover

Written by ?. Illustrated by Alberto Giolitti, Nevio Zaccara, Al McWilliams.
Colours/Letters/Editor: ?

Reprinting: Star Trek #1-8 (1967-1968) published by Gold Key

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published (originally) by Gold Key Comics, recently by Checker Publishing

An early version of the trade paperback collections that are so much en vogue today, The Enterprise Logs (there were four) reprinted the early Gold Key Star Trek comics in order, though printed on conventional, and cheaper, comic book paper (unlike modern TPBs).

Volume 1 re-presents the first eight issues, plus a couple of short fillers (probably done specifically for the collection) and has a bio of long time Star Trek artist Alberto Giolitti.

Although Gold Key's Trek series (the first of what would be a host of comic companies to get the rights) has been maligned over the years, there's a lot to like in these stories. Granted, in these early issues it's obvious neither the artists nor the (unbilled) writers were entirely familiar with the show. Giolitti, for one, lived in Rome and worked only from photos. The characters look right (except Scotty -- Giolitti may have been working from a picture of John (Lt. Kyle) Winston by mistake) but the interior of the Enterprise looks more like a submarine, and rocket flames flare out of the nacelles. And expressions like "Crashing Comets!" don't exactly sound familiar.

The stories focus largely on Kirk and Spock. Spock is accurately the intellectual, though a bit more emotional than in the series, and Kirk...well Kirk isn't too bad when contrasted with Marvel and DC's interpretation. Those later versions tend to emphasize the "yes, sir/no, sir" militarism of ship's life, whereas the Enterprise in the original TV series was a little more relaxed, less fascist, and that's reflected here.

The main appeal of these stories is the plots. Too many of the modern Trek comics I've read are caught up in the claustrophobic "reality" of the 23rd Century, emphasizing Klingons, Romulans, and cold war politicking, and de-emphasizing the SF and the fantastic. The stories here clearly stem from the "exploring strange new worlds" aspect of the series, playing out their adventures against eerie, isolated worlds beyond the fringes of known space.

Probably the highlight is "Invasion of the City Builders", about a world where an indolent population has been largely wiped out by overzealous machines. Not only does the allegorical premise play into the TV series' frequent theme of technology-out-of-control, but there's some interesting character stuff as the otherwise good guy leader of the survivors becomes dangerously jealous of Kirk and Spock's popularity among his people. "When Planets Collide" is an interesting adventure of the crew struggling to keep two inhabited planets from crashing into each other. And the premier story, about a planet where killer plants are the dominant life form, is conceptually ambitious (try filming it on a TV series' budget) if no more than an action-adventure, albeit an eerie one. Even then, there's a nice, poignant scene of a crewman's self-sacrifice.

The realist, understated art is pleasing effective, and quietly atmospheric. In some respects I find the art here better -- certainly more moody -- than a lot of the higher profile DC stuff.

Gold Key's Trek became more and more evocative of the TV series as it went along, both in look and characterization. And it's kind of neat to view the evolution even over these few issues, as the "teleportation chamber" becomes the "transporter room" and Kirk calls McCoy "Bones" in the final story. The much-later short pieces drawn by Al McWilliams show how far it would progress, because by then the writing and art clearly demonstrate familiarity with the series (Alberto Giolitti's stuff, too, became more obviously Trek -- including his Scotty -- but you can't know that from these early issues).

I have no idea what the actual value of the original printing might be for a modern reader, even if you can find a copy. Since it's a collection of reprints, it might be fairly cheap, but given that some of the original Gold Key issues are worth hundreds of dollars (in mint condition) this TPB might have appreciated somewhat, as well. One price guide I flipped through didn't even have the Enterprise Logs in its listings! Still, if you can find it reasonably cheap, the Enterprise Logs ain't high art, it's a bit corny and scientifically suspect in spots, but not a bad read, all things considered. Ironically, I think I enjoyed it more re-reading it as an adult than I did as a kid.

This has been re-published in recent years by Checker Publishing

Original 1976 cover price (wait for it) $1.95!!! -- those were the days, eh? (published by Golden Press)


Star Trek: The Manga (Shinsei Shinsei) 2006 (SC TPB) 230 pages

variant coverWritten and illustrated by various.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Tokyo Pop

The science fiction TV series, Star Trek, has been featured in comics published by various publishers over the years -- Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Marvel again!, Wildstorm, and just recently IDW (there was also a Star Trek newspaper strip). Despite this long history, few comic book runs have really proven that successful (DC's run was by far the longest, but I'm not sure how much impact it really made on fandom). Anyway, another company throwing its hat in the ring is Tokyopop.

variant coverTokyopop is an American company specializing in bringing Japanese comics (Manga) to Western readers, and to commissioning original projects with a Manga feel to them. And the gimmick with Star Trek: the Manga was, after all those years of Star Trek comics, to try something a little different by offering a Manga-flavoured take on the original characters. Of course, Manga flavoured refers more to the format (black and white, digest sized) and art style, more than anything in the narratives to distinguish it from other Star Trek comics.

Still, what you then get is a collection of five never-before published comics, most around 40 pages each, telling tales of Cap. Kirk and his crew. And the result is a bunch of generally okay Star Trek comics. Despite the page length (most of the stories almost double the number of pages of a regular comic), they suffer from the same flaw as a lot of Star Trek comics over the years -- a feeling that, the plots, though certainly having a feel/flavour of Star Trek, feel like a condensed version of a TV episode, often lacking much in the way of twists, or an emotional/character core. For instance in "Til Death", written by Mike W. Barr (a writer who has written many Star Trek comics over the years for different companies), there is an interesting, allegorical idea of the crew becoming infected with a force that turns women and men against each other -- a literal War of the Sexes. But beyond that, there's little emotional heart to the story. And some of the stories are aimed at fans, such as the first tale, "Side Effects", which is basically an action piece that builds to a final revelation that relates to Star Trek's existing mythos.

But I actually enjoyed them all more after a second reading -- the tales are energetic and briskly paced, with a few twists and turns. The stories actually seem to clip along at a brisker pace than some Star Trek comics I can think of with smaller page counts! And the Manga-styled art, though cartoony, is likewise full of verve that pushes the scenes forward.

The art in the collection varies in style, but all of it meant to evoke Asian comic art styles -- some by genuine Manga artists, some, I'm assuming from the Western names, by American artists mimicking the Manga style. I'm not necessarily a big Manga fan, and the very nature of that art style, which tends to lean toward cartoony (to varying degrees) is that it doesn't necessarily evoke the actors that much. Still, for what it is, the art is decent enough, with enough variety in styles to keep it from being too monotonous.

Probably my favourite stories, after one reading, were "Oban" (by Jim Alexander and Michasel Shelfer), which starts out seeming like it's going to be cutesy...but turns darker, into an effective "Alien"-style monster story, and "Orphans" (by Rob Tokar and Ej Su), which has a stronger emotional/character aspect to it, even if that means the action/adventure stuff is a little less pronounced. But, as mentioned, after a second reading...I can't really say there's a dud among the lot.

Perhaps the biggest appeal of this collection is just that -- it's a collection. Featuring five feature-length, self-contained, not previously published tales, it's a grab bag where no one story has to carry the book. And even if they haven't delivered many tales that would quite seem to rival better episodes of the TV show itself...funnily, I think these do stand as better-than-average Star Trek comic book tales. At least, when I reflect back on Star Trek comics I've read over the years (just as an example, I read IDW's first issue of their Star Trek: Year Four series and, once again, it just wasn't that great). I mentioned that the stories don't necessarily have the depth a TV episode might, but there's a briskness to them that means they don't drag or out stay their welcome, either. And the personality of the characters are evoked well enough.

As a bonus (and ad) the collection also includes a short text story (non-comic/Manga) from the then-upcoming Star Trek short story collection, Constellations -- "First, Do No Harm" by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore. Though decently written, it's bit dull and bland: an earnest, talky story lacking any pulpy thrills. You almost wonder if it was conceived as a ST: TNG story, then re-written as a Classic Trek story. As far as I'm concerned, the original series could be every bit as deep and thoughtful as the later shows...but it did it in a more fun, pulpy way. As well, even the dilemma the characters grapple with seems a bit off and oddly explained, involving a Starfleet cover-up (so much for an optimistic future) and a strange interpretation of the non-interference directive.

Though nothing here is necessarily a "must read", this was ultimately an enjoyable collection that's fun to have on the shelf, to dig out when you want a quick "Trek" fix. It was enjoyable enough that I just might consider picking up the sequel volume Tokyopop published.

Cover price: $__ CDN. / $9.99 USA.


Star Trek: The Mirror Universe Saga 1991 (SC TPB) 200 pages

cover by Ken ChristieWritten by Mike W. Barr. Pencils by Tom Sutton, Inks by Ricardo Villagran.
Colours: Michele Wolfman. Letters: John Costanza, with Carrie Spiegel. Editor: Marv Wolfman, Mike Barr.

Reprinting: Star Trek (1st DC series) #9-16 (1984-1985)

Additional notes: intro by SF (and Star Trek) author, A.C. Crispin

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

At eight chapters, the Mirror Universe Saga (titled "New Frontiers" inside the comics) may well be the longest Star Trek epic in comics. It revisits the idea, first introduced in the Star Trek TV episode, "Mirror, Mirror" (and reprised in various of the spin-of series), in which the characters discovered a dark, alternate reality peopled by their evil dopplegangers.

The story begins immediately following the movie "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", which had ended with the characters' Starfleet careers in limbo. It falls to writer Mike Barr to provide his own tidying up of loose plot threads (since "Star Trek IV" was still two years away!) As such, this is definitely apocryphal, as it can't neatly bridge the third and fourth movies.

But, perhaps surprisingly, that's actually part of the fun -- the "what if...?" idea that has fuelled comics like Marvel's "What if..." to DC's "Elseworlds", to Dark Horse' recent Star Wars off-shoots "Infinities". By rooting this saga within familiar Trek events, then going off on its own path, the story benefits from being at once familiar and unfamiliar. This is particularly true early on, where Barr can provide scenes and closure that "Star Trek IV" never did, such as having Admiral Kirk confront Carol Marcus over the death of their son, David.

Because of the epic length, Barr can indulge in better realized character moments than a lot of Trek comics which either have little emotional element, or just derivatively reiterate "character" bits lifted from the movies and series. By being forced to start where he is, Barr provides some good character bits that are wholly his own, like the Carol sequence, or a nice, understated scene where Kirk boards the mirror universe's Enterprise and is given a momentary pause seeing "his" lost ship again. Barr even works in a, minor, romantic element, which gives the story a richer, more "adult" feel than some Trek comics. Kirk's frequent liaison's in the original series have been ridiculed over the years, but what people fail to recognize is that a romance injected a personal element into those old episodes.

The focus is on Kirk for the most part, though Spock has some key scenes, and McCoy is there, ready with a quip or two. But reading this, I'm not sure you'd realize the relationship between the three is seen as central to the series.

Although an irresistible concept to revisit, this does smack of a problem with a lot of Trek comics and novels -- a lack of fresh ideas. It's also problematic because it negates some of the dramatic power of that TV episode, which ended with Kirk encouraging the mirror universe's Spock to struggle to reform the empire -- "One man with a vision," Kirk admonished Spock, the latter sporting a beard that, perhaps deliberately provocatively, made him look a little like Malcolm X or Vladimir Lenin. Part of the impact of that TV episode was that we didn't know what would come next. But in order for Barr's story to work, the answer is, nothing came next. The mirror universe Spock simply decided not to take Kirk's advice.

Still, Barr's saga may not gel with what happened in the original episode -- but that's O.K. It's a "what if...?" sequel, nothing more.

And Barr seems to understand that a comic book epic benefits from following a non-linear, eclectic path, rather than telling one, focused story from beginning to end. As such, the saga begins with the mirror universe Enterprise invading our universe, but a few chapters later, it's Kirk and the gang who are infiltrating the mirror universe, with a few twists and turns along the way. At the same time, it's not disconnectedly episodic. The story follows a logical progression, even as you can't tell where that progression might take you. The saga takes on the aspect of a movie serial at times, going from daring escape to cliff hanger thrill, in a way that can be fun and exciting...even as it maybe dumbs down the comic a bit. This is an adventure-thriller, more than a thoughtful saga. Whereas the original "Mirror, Mirror" derived its drama as much from the idea of how can Kirk not compromise his inherent humanity and compassion without betraying himself, this saga's suspense is derived from less weighty ideas. And whereas Star Trek often hinged its stories on Kirk being able to reason and debate and moralize his way out of jams, Barr is of the school that says a good phaser and a powerful starship is all the debating skills one really needs.

I've criticized Barr (and others) before, for their militarism, emphasizing battles with one dimensional Klingons and Romulans, rather than exploring strange new worlds. By pitting Kirk against Kirk, Barr can indulge in his action-adventure penchant, while avoiding some of his more extreme tendencies -- or politicizing it. But this becomes more problematic toward the climax, as the story builds to just a big space battle, with Kirk forming an alliance with the mirror universe's Klingons and Romulans. But Barr's take on the mirror universe is to come up with a reason why the Federation is evil...it's not just an "opposite" reality (which, I suppose, was already established in the TV episode, because the pacifist Halkans were the same in both universes). By doing this, he can make the Klingons just as evil and one-dimensional as he portrays their regular universe counterparts. As such, it seems awkward to have Kirk form an alliance with them, and it means that much of the climax is peopled by one-dimensional, cartoony villains.

I've often been ambivalent about the art in Star Trek comics over the years. And the Tom Sutton-Ricardo Villagran combo is no exception. On one hand, to their credit, they do credible likenesses of the characters, so that you can tell who's who (Saavik still looking like actress Kirstie Alley, rather than her replacement, Robin Curtis). But Sutton brings a decided looseness to his work, in figures, composition, even the backgrounds. Not only does Sutton's depiction of, say, a starship's bridge not entirely match the movies...I don't think one panel entirely matches with the next. As such, I can't really praise the art, but, then again, I liked it better than I expected. It told the story competently enough, even if it didn't really enhance it.

Just to throw in some fanboy nitpicking, there are a few technical errors, involving size and abilities of a Klingon Bird of Prey. While someone refers to the mirror universe Vulcan's as pacifists -- but in the TV episode, it was implied Vulcan's were quite the opposite.

Maybe I'm just mellowing, or maybe I've lowered my standards, but after years of being ambivalent about Barr, and many Star Trek comics, etc., I actually kind of enjoyed the Mirror Universe Saga, enjoying the very length of the thing, allowing for bumps in the path, and permitting time out for some nice character bits, even as it becomes sillier, shallower, more "comicbooky" as it goes along. The main story basically resolves in #15, with #16 acting more as an epilogue. The saga ends with the characters' patching things up with Starfleet and one of the regular characters being sent off with his own command, a story thread presumably pursued for the next few issues. As such, the ending isn't as neat as it could be for someone just picking this up by itself, years later, yet nonetheless it is meant to provide closure, and certainly isn't a "cliff hanger" or anything.

Interestingly enough, DC's Star Trek actually anticipated later trends. Barr and DC introduced original supporting characters to their Star Trek, including a Klingon crewman...before Worf in TNG; the mirror universe has cropped up subsequently in Star Trek books, and later TV series; some scenes aboard a starbase, portraying the interaction between starfleet and civilian personnel, seems to have anticipated DS9; and just the very idea of battles between fleets of starships, though commonplace now, had never been depicted in either the original series, or the movies featuring those characters.

In the end, as someone who, I'll admit, has often found Classic Trek comics disappointing -- The Mirror Universe saga is an enjoyable romp.

This is a review based on the story as it was serialized in the comics.

Cover price: $23.95 CDN./ $__ USA


Star Trek - The Modala Imperative1992 (SC TPB), 200 pgs.

Star Trek The Modala Imperative - cover by Sonia R. HilliosWritten by Michael Jan Friedman, Peter David. Illustrated by Pablo Marcos.
Colours: Tom McCraw. Letters: Bob Pinaha. Editor: Robert Greenberger

Reprinting: Star Trek - The Modala Imperative #1-4 (1991 mini-series) and Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Modala Imperative #1-4 (1991 mini-series) (with covers)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1 (and a half)

Published by DC Comics

The first half of Star Trek - The Modala Imperative focuses on the original crew, as Captain Kirk and company get caught up in a rebellion against the tyrannical rulers of the planet Modala. The second half has the crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation, accompanied by the aging Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock, returning to Modala a hundred years later...only to once more find things aren't well.

Regarding the first half: I liked Pablo Marcos' art (I only knew of him as an inker) and Michael Jan Friedman's dialogue was reasonably good. By stretching the story out over four chapters, he was able to take his time, allowing scenes to play themselves out, rather than rush things.

The problem is the plot. There ain't much of one. Michael Jan Friedman takes almost a hundred pages to tell a story that's shy on story, plot twists, clever concepts, and characterization. I've read single issue Star Trek comics from Marvel, or even the much-maligned Gold Key, that had more imaginative stories and better character development.

The emotional pull of the storyline -- such as it is -- stems solely from wet-behind- the-ears Chekov on his first mission.

There are even technical lapses, like Captain Kirk at one point extolling the virtues of a Modalan...who hadn't appeared in any previous scene!

Ultimately, Michael Jan Friedman's story is just the bare bones of a plot -- maybe that's because it was intended as little more than a prologue to the main idea...

The first-ever crossover, as two characters from the original series team up with their Next Generation counterparts (the original mini-series was published shortly before the two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation TV episode with Spock).

I'm not a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which might explain why I enjoyed this part slightly more...I had less expectation. When the action starts, it actually seems a bit faster-paced than the Classic Trek storyline...but that's only because Peter David jams it all into the last two chapters. The first two chapters are just fanboy fantasizing (make no mistake, though Peter David and Michael Jan Friedman get paid, this is essentially just fan fiction) as McCoy and Spock prowl around the new Enterprise, McCoy making acerbic remarks, Spock jamming with Data, etc. Overall, David doesn't offer anything better than Friedman when it comes to story or creativity -- though he does (slightly) better with the Modalans-as- characters. Conversely, ST: TNG fans will probably be disappointed at how many of the regulars have almost no part.

I wasn't much impressed with Peter David's ear for dialogue -- there's some witty bits, it's true, but the speech patterns are often stiff. He seems incapable of creating different voices -- three characters, representing three planets, all use the term "cretin" (not one of the more commonplace words). At another point, an alien refers to blowing something to "kingdom come"...that's taking parallel evolution a bit far, isn't it?

Marcos' art also takes a bizarre turn. I don't know if he broke his hand between the two storylines, or whether he was intentionally employing a different style to distinguish the two, but it's as crude and ineffective as the Classic Trek story was well-drawn.

Star Trek - The Modala Imperative isn't, perhaps, awful. The Next Generation; storyline is no worse than an average ST: TNG episode (and better than the actual two-part cross-over they did do, though inferior to the Scotty/TNG episode). But both stories are thin and inconsequential, lacking any emotional or intellectual edge...and any real sense of the fantastic. Star Trek, at least the original series, was a mix of hard SF, surrealistic fantasy, macabre horror, and parable -- but take away the costumes and there's almost nothing fantastical here. A school pagent is a school pagent, executions are done by firing squad, etc. A Kryptonese-style killer plant would've been most welcome at the very least.

There's something almost insulting about the whole thing: the cross-over "event"; publishing it (originally) as a "special" eight issue mini-series; then collecting it in this TPB -- all for a story that probably took Peter David and, particularly, Michael Jan Friedman, less time to concoct than it took me to read. And when you tack on the cover price (I got it on sale), well...

The TPB also features an introduction by Walter Koenig of interest for something that has nothing to do with Star Trek. At one point Koenig quotes "In Flanders Fields" (a bit of a tasteless misuse of the poem, but anyway)...which was interesting because I didn't know John McCrae's classic poem was even read outside of Canada.

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


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