The Masked Bookwyrm's Graphic Novel (& TPB) Reviews
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Star Trek: TNG Reviews
The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation 1994 (SC TPB) 190 pages
Written by Michael Jan Friedman, John De Lancie. Pencils by Pablo Marcos, Gordon Purcell, Matt Haley, Peter Krause. Inks by Pablo Marcos, Carlos Garzon.
Colours: Julianna Ferriter. Letters: Robert Pinaha.
Reprinting: Star Trek: The Next Generation (monthly series) #5-6, 19, Annual #1, 2
Into by Jeri Taylor (one of the TV series writers)
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Number of readings: 1
Review posted Feb 2016
Published by DC Comics
I tend to have a mixed relationship with "best of" comic book collections -- usually finding them alluring as "samples" but equally often hit and miss. I also have a mixed relationship with media tie-in comics -- though I've read lots of them. I've suggested before that, in a way, the less I'm a fan of the source material, the better my response to the comics. I suppose it's because in those cases I'm familiar enough with the source to appreciate when the comic captures the flavour, without being such a fan that I'll nitpick over every little detail. So in that sense, despite bring a bigger fan of the original Star Trek series, I've often enjoyed comics based on the spin-off series better.
All of which is a preamble bringing us to this collection culled from the early ST:TNG comics by DC Comics.
And ya -- I'm mixed.
For one thing, it's an oddly small collection -- small because they chose to include a two-parter plus two double-sized annuals which, along with single issue story, means it only presents four different stories!
The two-parter has the Enterprise rescuing colonists from a sort of plague world -- only to discover they are miraculously cured of their illness. This has a particular effect on Geordi, as one of the cured colonists is an ex-lover of his. And this is what I mean about my attitude toward the source material affects my attitude to the comic. Because it's not really a great story -- but it's perfectly in keeping with the sort of story TNG would've done, so it's suitably evocative. Despite being stretched out over two issues it's not like the plot is especially complex or twisty -- you pretty much know what's going to happen, without even any significant surprises.
The single issue story is, well, pretty minor, focusing almost entirely on character. Troi takes Dr. Crusher hiking on the holodeck, the latter feeling a bit morose because it's her birthday and she's getting older, while Riker subs as a school teacher with Wesley in the class. That's pretty much all there is to it.
The first annual is written by actor John De Lancie and, appropriately, features his character of Q, the malicious/mischievous cosmic being. After Q first shanghaies Picard into his own past, giving him a test wherein he must somehow prove his identity to his sceptical parents, the story then veers into an alternate reality Dystopia. De Lancie's story doesn't lack for ideas -- but maybe suffers from too many of them, not really developing them properly (there's little plausible explanation for how or why this Dystopia would evolve given the changed history, and it can seem more like an overview of the scenario, rather than driven by scenes or by Picard as a character). And it can feel like the ideas are driving the story and the characters, rather than vice versa. There's also a kind of odd moralizing as the premise could kind of breakdown to be: don't bother regretting past actions because a Fascist state might have arisen otherwise! (Not exactly a universal concern).
Though continuity buffs will note that the story references Picard having a dead brother -- when in the TV series he was (I assume subsequently) revealed to have a still living brother.
I think the best of the collection is the second annual. Again, I say that with the modest expectations TNG engenders in me. After all, despite 54 pages it just comes across as an episode of the TV show. But I would argue it does successfully evoke a TV episode -- and a better than average one. The story mixes a current crisis (The Enterprise having to rescue another Starfleet ship besieged by strange vessels) and some action with flashbacks to a past relationship of Riker's, giving the thing its talky/human drama aspect. I suspect part of the story's appeal for me is the art. Matt Haley does a nice job of capturing the actors, while still delivering moody, well composed panels. Funnily, I think this was among his earliest professional work!
Not that the art throughout isn't of a decent level from an array of artists, all working in a reasonably realist style and evoking the actors well enough. But Banning stands as my favourite.
But as for being a "best of" collection -- there's one very good story (Annual #2 - which you could probably pick up in a back issue bin), an okay if undistinguished one (#5-6) and a couple of lesser ones.
Original cover price: $ __
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Beginnings 1995 (SC TPB) 160 pages
Written by Mike Carlin. Pencils by Pablo Marcos. Inks by Carlos Garzon, Arne Starr.
Colours: Carl Gafford. Letters: Bob Pinaha. Editor: Robert Greenberger.
Reprinting: Star Trek: The Next Generation #1-6 (1988 mini-series)
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Number of readings: 1
Additional notes: introduction Michael Okuda (Star Trek: TNG graphics designer)
Published by DC Comics
DC Comics enjoyed one of the most successful runs of Star Trek comics of any of the various comics publishers who have acquired rights to the property over the years, and its Next Generation comic was also quite successful. But before it committed to a regular series based on the, then, new and untried television property, it tested the water with a six issue Star Trek: The Next Generation mini-series. A series which was then collected as the TPB, Beginnings, some years later.
Actually, the interesting thing about the mini-series is to wonder if it was intended, originally, as only four issues. For unlike most miniseries, which tell a single story, here some of the issues are self-contained. In fact, it's not till the third issue that a multi-part story begins, stretching from #3-5, and though the sixth issue is, once more, self-contained, it is the culmination of a mission that was first assigned to the crew in issue #3. In other words, you almost wonder if #3-6 were the original mini-series, and then someone decided to expand it with a couple more, stand alone, tales just to really test the water.
Just a thought.
Anyway, I've mentioned elsewhere that I was more a fan of the original series than any of the spin-offs, which, paradoxically, might mean I'm less critical of comics based on the later series, since I don't require as much fidelity to the source. Case in point is Beginnings which, I'll admit, I reasonably enjoyed.
Oh, sure, the dialogue can be corny, fans might object to the characterization in spots (though more in the nuances than the broad strokes), the plotting can be a bit erratic...even, um, occasionally curious (issue #2 is a Christmas story wherein the crew encounters a race that looks a lot like the Grinch from Dr. Seuss, and these creatures are pursuing a strange, spirit creature -- I'm not kidding!) There is a bit of a "guilty pleasure" aspect, at times. But, overall, it kept me turning the pages. And that's the point. And the whimsy of the Christmas issue isn't as in evidence in other issues.
Taking advantage of the bigger cast, and the more colourful characters in TNG (as opposed to the original series, where most of the supporting characters were just keeping the seats warm), writer Carlin can pad things out with thought balloons and minor sub-plots utilizing the personalities. In fact, Tasha Yar (this was originally published during the series' first season) is actually explored more fully in the multi-issue story, and developed more compellingly, than I recall her ever being in the TV show itself. Following the lead of DC's classic Star Trek comic, in which a deliberate attempt was made to create its own universe by introducing original supporting characters, Carlin throws in a married couple not from the series, the Bickely's -- aptly named, as they bicker incessantly, even on the bridge. It's a one note, somewhat implausible characterization, and nothing is done with them, but it perhaps reinforces the idea, inherent in the series, that this Enterprise is populated, not just by crewmen, but by families as well.
At the same time, Carlin slips up in various ways -- dialogue doesn't always sound appropriate to the characters, relationships might seem shaded slightly different; Troi is given vague pregognative abilities, not just empathic abilities. Some claim this was partly because Carlin was writing this just as the series itself was only beginning. Though that doesn't excuse other errors, like having an admiral change name in mid-scene! And it's almost too faithful in other ways. Recurring character, Q, appears and some of the story ideas make reference to specific episodes -- which might be a bit confusing if, like me, you haven't seen those episodes in years (though I could still follow the gist). Actually a cute "in" joke is when the characters encounter a planet inhabited by various races, and one of the characters is half-black/half-white -- a reference to a race from the original series.
Pablo Marcos' art is not, perhaps, inspiring, yet he does a good job evoking the actors -- at least enough that you can always tell who's who. He tends to exaggerate the muscles a bit, making these space explorers look more like super heroes but, overall, it tells the tales adequately in a no frills, Bronze Age way.
Reasonably well-paced, so that even the talky bits -- and like the series itself, there's plenty of that -- don't seem boggy, I'll admit, I emerge, whatever its flaws and lack of polish, with generally good feelings about this book. Maybe it's partly because, in a medium dominated by super heroes, there's fun in an old fashioned, SF comic. And maybe it's because -- frankly -- I got a tattered copy of this dirt cheap as opposed to the heftier cover price! (My enjoyment of a book is often inversely proportional to how much I paid for it).
With some stand alone tales to be read in a single sitting, and a multi-part saga sandwiched inbetween, this is a decent little collection of diverse tales. Nothing classic, but enjoyable.
Original cover price: $27.95 CDN./ $19.95
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Forgiveness 2001 (HC and SC GN) 96 pages
Written by David Brin. Painted by Scott Hampton
Letters: Tracey Munsey, Albert Deschesne. Editor: Jeff Mariotte.
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Number of readings: 1
Additional notes: sketchbook; author bios.
Published by Wildstorm/DC Comics
Forgiveness is probably the longest, single-story ST: TNG comic book done to date (though there may well have been longer stories serialized in the monthly comic). It's written by David Brin, a respected science fiction novelist who marks his first stab at a Star Trek story here and, I believe, his first work in the comics medium. And it's probably the first -- the only -- fully painted graphic novel featuring any of the Star Trek series. And that combines to suggest Forgiveness was intended to be something special -- even the title sounds profound.
I should mention that I'm not a huge fan of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show (so far practically the only other ST: TNG comics I've read are the TPB Beginnings and the story in Star Trek: The Modala Imperative). I'm a fan of the original TV series, but have had mixed feelings about all the subsequent ones. Ironically, the Next Generation movie I enjoyed the most -- Insurrection -- seems to be one of the lesser regarded ones.
The story has the Enterprise intercepting a centuries old transporter signal. They materialize from the signal Dr. Blakeney, a 21st Century earthman. Since he's suffering from partial amnesia, Dr. Crusher suggests a radical treatment using the holodeck to help him retrieve his memories by letting him relive the days prior to his beaming. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is set to meet with the Palami, a species that has been quarantined by the Federation for decades for crimes committed generations ago. The Palami feel they've served their penance, while many in the Federation, including the hardnosed ambassador the Enterprise is escorting, are less inclined to be so forgiving.
At 90 pages, you might expect Forgiveness to be the equivalent of a movie -- but there seems barely enough here to fill a TV episode. And it seems a little like a shaggy dog story -- all build up with little pay off. Not a lot happens -- certainly not much in the way of excitement or adventure. Nor even as a drama. By beginning the story showing Blakeney commencing his ill-fated teleportation, there isn't much we're waiting to discover as the holodeck therapy peels back the curtains from his memories. In the first few pages we learn that his teleportation experiments had aroused the ire of religious fanatics and rival businesses, and that someone sabotaged his beaming. In fact, what seems like a mystery to be unravelled -- that two men went into the transporter at the beginning, but only Blakeney is materialized by the Enterprise -- turns out not to be the puzzle one might have expected (it doesn't turn out that he's a merged version of two men or anything). The encounter with the Palami, where the Enterprise encounters a menacing battlefleet, doesn't materialize into much of anything, either.
The flashback scenes have a certain readable, kitchen sink aspect, but nothing that screams gripping drama, or profound character exploration. There's an effective, suspenseful sequence where Data and Crusher discover that the holodeck has built some stuff a little too authentically...but that's only a brief part of the story.
Given the limitless scope of a comic, the story seems kind of low budget, with most of the action taking place on the Enterprise, or in the rather conventional-looking 21st Century.
The forgiveness of the title has little to do with anything demonstrated in the story or arising from the characters. It just seems tacked on for the climax, to make the story seem thoughtful.
For a Next Generation story, writer Brin seems disinterested in his heroes, focusing most of his attention on Blakeney and the flashbacks to the 21st Century, where Dr. Crusher and Cmdr. Data are little more than observers -- and even Blakeney isn't an especially well realized figure. Captain Picard has a lot of lines and scenes, as do Data and Crusher, to some extent, but not so that their characters are explored especially. At one point a character worries Crusher might develop an attachment to Blakeney...but she doesn't, so that turns out to be a non-starter. Riker, LaForge, and Troi appear, but mainly to fill up the scenes (Worf doesn't appear at all -- this is set during the Dominion War when Worf was a regular on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine").
For someone who the cover describes as having a "sure fictional hand and scientific expertise", Brin's script suffers from plausibility problems. If the story had worked better, they would've been forgiveable. But as it is, they kind of hobble it further. The story is about the Federation having quarantined a planet as a punishment for a "crime" (which was apparently an accident anyway) committed generations before. In a sci-fi context, it's an O.K. idea, but in a real world context, that'd be like throwing a son in jail for a crime committed by his father! While in another plot element, we are told Blakeney blames a rival consortium for the deaths of his family...but even when we learn how they died, it's unclear why he holds them accountable. And the idea that the Captain would authorize key crewmembers to engage in a radical experiment while he's simultaneously taking the ship into an unknown dangerous situation, seemed implausible (couldn't they have waited a few days?)
Hampton's painted art adds weight to the book, but can seem a bit stiff (perhaps because he's modelling his characters on stills of the actors, taken from other contexts), and the work's a bit spartan. It's realistic, without being of the photo-realistic variety of an Alex Ross. He does a good enough job of capturing the likenesses of most of the male actors, though the female regulars are identifiable simply by their hair colour (arguably, he makes Crusher and Troi look prettier than their real life counterparts). He captures the sets and costumes accurately, but like the script itself, it seems a bit aloof and soulless at times.
According to the bio notes, Brin had the idea for this back when he first saw the original Star Trek series in the '60s -- making this a story that's been three decades in the making. But the "concept" to which he refers, I suspect, is simply how the development of teleportation might engender the fury of conventional transportation companies and religious zealots who claim the soul would not be teleported. But that concept isn't quite enough to sustain a 90 page story without better twists and turns, particularly when that's all established in the first three pages. Besides, at the risk of being precisely the sort of person Brin is criticizing, maybe we shouldn't look at Star Trek's transporter as anything more than a convenenient plot device. Because, realistically, it would raise a lot of philosophical questions if someone were to really develop it (given that there was an episode of TNG where Picard actually died...and they simply recreated him from his pattern recorded in the transporter, raising the question of who/what is the individual).
Ultimately, this isn't horrible, but it seems a bit undeveloped, both as an adventure story, and as a human drama -- and ridiculously over-priced for what it is.
Soft cover price: $29.95 CN./ $17.95 USA
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Gorn Crisis 2001 (HC & SC TPB) 96 pages
Written by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta. Illustrated by Igor Kordey.
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Number of readings: 1
Review posted: Feb 2016
Published by DC Comics
The Gorn Crisis is an epic-length, all-original, and fully painted Star Trek: The Next Generation graphic novel. It's a format that TNG comics seemed to get more than other versions (I think the original series only got two lengthy graphic novels -- one a novel adaptation -- and neither were painted). The previous TNG example was Forgiveness. Added to the chic is it's co-written by Kelvin J. Anderson, a popular science fiction novelist.
The premise links back to the original series as it involves the reptilian Gorn, seen in one episode of the 1960s series. Captain Picard and The Enterprise are attempting to negotiate an alliance with the notoriously insular Gorn, not just for diplomatic reasons, but military ones. The Federation is at war, this occurring in the midst of the Dominion War storyline that was featured in the TV series ST: Deep Space Nine (can't remember if TNG was still on the air at that time). Anyway, things get complicated when there's a coup on the Gorn homeworld and a ruthless military sect takes power and launches its own bid for interstellar supremacy.
The story cleverly fractures the plot into separate threads, both helping to fill up the 90 pages, and to give some face time to different characters, with Picard and some crew members on the Gorn world, Data left in charge of The Enterprise, and Riker on the nearest Federation outpost manned by Humans and Klingons, each character having to deal with their own dangers. Unfortunately, the co-writers don't really use the different story threads for much variety, as both the Riker and Data threads basically just involve pitched battles with Gorn invaders. Nor can it be said that it necessarily makes much use of the characters (indeed, other regular cast members like Geordi and Troi are largely there just to fill out the background). The Riker thread involves him partnered with a disgraced Klingon commander, but even this story arc doesn't really evolve into much.
The result is basically an action movie. It clips along, there's lots of fighting and explosions. But it can seem a bit ironic given the cliche promoted by TNG fans was that the series was the smarter, more thoughtful compared to the 1960s series. Yet a story like this -- reminiscent of movies like Star Trek: First Contact -- is mostly just a lot of action. In addition, the plot itself can feel a bit...small. I mean, given it's some 90 pages, in terms of what happens -- story points, plot twists, character arcs -- it hardly feels like it needed such length. That isn't to say it's slow or feels padded -- it doesn't! -- just it hardly feels like a grandiose graphic "novel." It's not like there are any real plot twists, or surprises, nor mysteries to be revealed. In the early scenes, even as Picard and his contingent try to puzzle out what's happening on the Gorn planet, the reader is already aware of the coup. Nor are there any surprise motivations involved. And for all the lip service to being thoughtful, for all Data inparticular acts as if he'd rather negotiate than fight, the climax is pretty much what you might expect, boiling down to a contest of might.
The painted art is, as painted art in comics can often be, a mixed bag. On one hand, there's no doubt that painted comics take on a grandiosity, a sense of being special and bigger than regular comics -- like seeing a wide screen $100 million budget version of what was formerly a TV show. Kordy certainly has a 3-D quality (that isn't always true of painted comics) lending the scenes a richness. But, equally, I can't really say his underlining pencil work is anything extraordinary. It's not so much that he's a notable comic book artist who also paints so much as his painting is what makes the art notable. His figures can often look a bit stiff, even stubby, the action scenes not always clearly presented. He can capture some of the actors well enough (notably Patrick Stewart's Picard), others less surely -- though usually you can tell who's supposed to be who. There are a small number of painted artists in comics -- like Alex Ross, Joe Jusko -- whose art can imbue the scenes with a startling realism. But most -- don't.
And given the Gorn aren't human, that allows the comic to indulge in some grislier violence than it might have for human victims (Gorn's get decapitated and the like).
I also can't say the script exactly warps by without a few holes and head scratching moments. Including the idea that Picard would beam his crew down in the midst of a coup when, you might think, as a foreign emissary, he might be better advised to stay neutral. Or a Starfleet Commander (joining the long list of obnoxious bureaucrats Star Trek liked to trot out over the years) blithely tells Data the Enterprise is on its own -- even though Data has just informed him an enemy fleet has been launched against Federation interests. (Battling the Dominion or not, I think you'd still take news like that more seriously).
For that matter, aren't there some ethical issues raised by the Enterprise -- and Starfleet's -- eagerness to befriend The Gorn and recruit them for their fight with The Dominion? Given the Gorn seem to be genocidal warmongers themselves?
Original cover price: $ __
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive 2013 (SC TPB) 102 pages
Written by Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas, Travis Fickett. Illustrated by Joe Corroney, with Matt Fillback, Shawn Fillback.
Reprinting: Star Trek: TNG: The Hive #1-4 (2012)
Rating: * * * * (out of 5)
Number of readings: 1
Review posted Oct. 2019
Published by IDW
Hive boasts a slightly atypical pedigree in that it is based on a story idea credited to Brannon Braga -- a writer and overseer for much of the televised Star Treks. This is part of a relatively recent trend of media tie-in comics recruiting actual writers (and/or other talents) from the shows themselves, lending an air of "authenticity" to a comic (in the Trek world, D.C. Fontana also wrote a Classic Trek comic book story arc, Year Four - The Enterprise Experiment). Often such projects can take on an air of being "canon," as opposed to apocryphal, stories. Although in this case, I suspect it's meant to be read as quite the opposite: as an apocryphal/what if...? adventure presenting the final showdown with TNG's signature addition to Trek lore -- the deadly and unstoppable cyborg collective, the Borg!
The story begins 500 years in the future where the galaxy has been completely conquered and assimilated by the Borg. But Locutus -- the Borg-ified version of the Enterprise's Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (how his fleshy bits remain intact after 500 years is unclear) -- has begun to question the Borg philosophy, seeing in it a dead end and cultural stagnation. So he hatches a plan to rewrite history and stop the Borg conquest...
Meanwhile, 500 years earlier, the still human Capt. Picard and the Enterprise crew (or what remains of them, this set after the final movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, which had Camdr. Riker preparing to take his own command on a separate ship) are summoned by Starfleet who have been alerted to renewed Borg activity in the quadrant. Excerpt the Borg (and the Borg Queen) propose an alliance, claiming a third, more dangerous alien invader threatens them all.
The story continues to cut between the "present" as Picard and his crew (soon re-joined by Riker) set out to confront this new menace only to experience betrayal and double-crosses by the Borg -- and 500 years later as Picard/Locutus sets out to undo what had occured centuries before (joined in his efforts by a Borg-ified Data).
Along for the ride is Seven-of-Nine (from Star Trek: Voyager, of course) who, being part Borg herself, makes a logical addition to the story. Though her initial appearance triggers a flashback to yet an earlier time as we learn her involvement started a few years before.
There's certainly a fair amount going on to keep the pages turning, the story briskly-paced with lots of action and danger and elements of creepy horror (an expected element in a Borg story). Though it's all perhaps ironic given fans of TNG used to brag that it was the more thoughtful, sedate Trek compared to the rambunctious original series! Indeed, perhaps one of the biggest complaints one could level at this is there's not too much effort expended on characterization. If this had been an actual script for a TNG episode/movie, the actors would've been miffed. Most of the regular characters are basically there to just fill up the corners, with the focus going to Picard, with Seven-of-Nine, Data, and Riker next, and in that order. And even Picard doesn't really get that much character stuff (compared to, for instance, the movies). There's some acknowledging of his past experiences with the Borg -- but it's surprisingly muted. Actually another character who crops up is a Lt. Kira Archer -- but I'm not sure if she's a pre-existing character or original to this story (possibly we are meant to infer she's descended from Capt. Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise?)
The detailed art is solid and realist, generally capturing the actors' likenesses quite well so that you can recognize the familiar characters. But it can also be a bit stiff, and though it tells the scenes well enough, it's without too much stand-out in terms of composition, or the use of shadows and light. Although maybe that's a bit unfair as there is a palpable sense of creepiness at times, particularly in the scenes on board the Borg ships. There's no doubt you can read the comic and genuinely feel like you're experiencing some lost episode or movie, with the familiar actors on the screen -- which is surely a main goal of a comic based on a TV series! (For some reason I often find that Jonathan Frakes -- Riker -- seems to translate to a comic page quite well, both here and in other TNG comics he often feels the most natural, as if artists have an easier time capturing not just Frake's face, but even his poise).
The story is certainly grandiose and even apocalyptic. As I said, it's probably meant to be seen as apocryphal, which means it doesn't just have to end by returning everything to the status quo. There can be consequences, even perhaps deaths of familiar characters (or perhaps not -- wouldn't want to give spoilers). But I do feel that for all that it's a "big" story -- a showdown with the Borg, an apocalyptic future where the Borg have conquered all -- it can also feel a bit, well, slight, too. Despite serialized initially in four issues, it still feels a bit less than the weight of a "motion picture" and, as mentioned, it can feel like they were more focused on the big ideas, and the plot twists and turns, than on the character/human aspect that gives plot its oomph.
With that said -- an exciting, tightly-paced adventure that stands as one of the better of the TNG graphic novels (of the one's I've read so far).
Original cover price: $ __