Thursday, 15 March 2018

Rounding Up: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 20 - 23

Next up in the ever growing Graphic Novel Collection comes the Classic UK Comics with more retro ‘50’s style shenanigans. Clive and Ian take a look...

I'll be straight up with this one, the UK Comics can be a bit of a drag to get through and while the Kelvin timeline and The Next Generation stories can be a one-sit-and-done these require a more dedicated span of attention due to the smaller story panels and even smaller text. 

What you also find with these is that they tend to lean towards less that Star Trek relevant stories choosing to head into generic sci-fi story territory rather than pushing that envelope and doing something unique and different. It does make for some interesting dipping in and out on occasion,reading a story then dropping into something more recent for a rest. The illustrations are very similar to those in Flash Gordon and other more 50's sci-fi themed outings but they do seem to toe the line on tech and the sets a lot more than Gold Key ever attempted - at least the bridge looks like the bridge and the characters have at least more than a passing passing resemblance to their onscreen counterparts. Some great things to watch out for as you're reading through - lizard aliens, classical Rome and the most bizarre planet-fall landing of a Star Trek starship ever; I kid you not.

Second up in issue 21 is the first trip out to the depths of the Delta Quadrant and aboard Voyager. This collection is set during the third season of the show and prior to the Doctor receiving the holo-emitter meaning we get him confined to sickbay and the holodeck as well as the young Ocampan Kes.   

The stories seem to try and keep in line with the televised episodes, returning both the Talaxians and the Kazon to the story as the former attempt to secure Voyager for the Trabe in what is a very fast-paced tale to open this volume. Graphically the stories do the ships some justice but their visual interpretations of the crew are sketchy at best. Fortunately the stories are compelling and do try and follow some sort of canonical references keeping them firmly placed within the Voyager timeline. While the artwork can be hit and miss at times with these stories they're as good a read as any and once I'd dived into a few pages I found myself easily swayed and totally hooked into some very well crafted adventures.

The Voyager stories are a little more gung-ho than you might have expected but they are all high on action and low (for once) on the technobabble which means you get a much better fill of story and can follow every line. It's not as overdramatic as the recent reprints of the Marvel and UK comic series but it's not as clean cut and crisply written as you would find in one of the Kelvin universe or The Next Generation volumes from the last decade.

Oddly this volume has a fascination with the Kazon/Trabe fracture in the Delta Quadrant with a good four fifths of the stories using this as its centrepoint. It definitely makes for an action packed narrative but maybe it overplays the phaser shooting and fist-fighting that Star Trek didn’t need to rely on to tell a story. These tales do keep with the nicey-nice Maquis/Starfleet unity and tow the line but it does feel a touch lifeless
Issue 22 slips us into the realms of Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation with Divided We Fall. Once again there's some tight storytelling, a mix of characters all thrown together and some little signs that mean you can place the time this was written precisely - Riker is clean shaven and there's a Trill officer at the Conn; yes, this was produced just after Insurrection was released and as such the events of Nemesis have no recrimination here.

It's a brilliant story, planned well and offering up one might-have-been moment in Star Trek lore. I love these kind of stories where what actually happened and what was envisaged are completely different because of the perspectives involved. The choice to use Verad from Invasive Procedures as the antagonist here might initially seem a bad idea since that's once of Deep Space Nine's weaker season two installments but it does actually work and by an even further twist we manage to pull in the first onscreen Trill, Odan from The Host. Not just that but Elias Vaughn and Thirishar ch’Thane from the Literary Universe are also pulled into the unfolding events making this one hell of a multi-format crossover spectacular. It really is a story that pulls out all the stops when it comes to both character and action with storyboards that are crisply executed with a decent likeness for the established roster of crew. Great from start to finish this is one of the greats of the collection so far however...

Issue 23 and Assignment Earth. Now this is our first real diversion away from the mainstream Star Trek content, taking us back to the final episode of the second season of The Original Series and the appearance of one Gary Seven, a transmorphic cat called Isis and his secretary Roberta Lincoln.

Now it does have a couple of cute crossover moments in here which ping us back again into Tomorrow is Yesterday to see it from a perspective not unlike that we experienced with Trials and Tribble-ations but on the whole these are a whole new set of adventures which revolve around this unique investigator. This volume gives a voice to a what could have been in much the same way that Divided We Fall offers a divergence into a Star Trek had Nemesis never happened. It's a lot more fun, more colourful and fast-paced than regular Star Trek adventures as it's not enforced to work to the same set of rules or formula even though it's set within the same universe. Could this be someone who could turn up in Discovery? I don't see why not but I would imagine Aaron Harberts and Ted Sullivan would want to tone him down and make his ethics and drives a lot darker than we get here.

Of the whole selection we're covering off here this was easily my favourite. It offered a new dynamic to the Star Trek universe through a series of quite un-Star Trek like tales set in the 1960's USA. These do feel a little more cartoonish in style but there's a lot of life and a lot to love about their content. An odd inclusion but a great one to get hold of and experience a series that never actually was!

On the flip side however my colleague Ian found this a little bit dull and pedestrian -which he has found to occur in previous works by the Tipton brothers. Also in this volume we have A World Gone Mad from Gold Key It has its usual wackiness that you would expect and you get Spock uttering the immortal line “That's no way for a sister to be acting”;I wonder why that one didn’t catch on!!

Backing up the latter three of the four editions is our old faithful Gold Key stories from the early 1970's. This time we have the joys of The Hijacked Planet, The Haunted Asteroid and A World Gone Mad, all of which take us into more Star Trek-foundation (and pretty much everything else) ignoring all the way. They do have a lot in common with the UK Comics editions more than anything although as we do get further into the back catalogue there are occasional signs that the writers and illustrators were starting to consider actually getting a shade nearer canon even if its just in uniform colours. Also a note from Ian on this one around The Haunted Asteroid in that it introduces Doctor Krisp who will turn up again in future stories - a first in the form of a recurring character created for the Gold Key series.

Right then - that's our first of three round robin catchups for the Graphic Novel series. Our next will cover issues 24 - 27...

Any of these floating your boat? What's been the highlight of the collection so far?

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Sunday, 11 March 2018

The (170)1 That Got Away: The Official Starships Collection Bonus Edition: USS Enterprise Phase II Concept

One of the most fascinating periods of Star Trek history has to be the late 1970's. 

A time when the wonders of Star Wars were a major factor in changing the course of Star Trek and pushing it into the cinema and away from the medium of TV until 1986.

But what if.... what if Star Trek has followed through with its initial plan to return to the small screen and what if the vehicle for those continuing adventures had been updated for TV and not for the more discriminate movie theatre?

Eaglemoss now presents the USS Enterprise that almost, nearly but ultimately never was as part of their bonus editions range from The Official Starships Collection.

Now, who isn’t a sucker for an Enterprise huh? Precisely and with this one it’s a real mish-mash of the classic TV craft and it’s refitted movie version but let’s start at the top and take this one a step at a time.

Overall the distinctive shape of the Constitution Class remains the same - saucer, secondary hull and warp engines but it’s the tweaks that Matt Jefferies put into the ship that make it all the more interesting especially when you compare it to what was in the series and what would be in The Motion Picture.

For starters, the saucer panel lines make their first appearance after the smooth finish of the TV series model however the registry remains in the classic font of the show rather than adding the block font and red edging. Nor are the phaser bank emplacements blocked in as they would be for the film. At the centre, the bridge module is instantly recognisable but finally has a second turbo lift tube added, giving the unit those Mickey Mouse ears. Aside from that though, the bridge piece is identical to its previous incarnation.

Also added is a double red stripe that runs from the rear of the bridge module to the back of the saucer and then down the length of the secondary hull to the top of the shuttlebay. It’s actually something that appears on neither the movie or TV series version - and there are a couple more bits like that to come. 

The saucer is of course metal for the most part with the central underside section in plastic and connected to the neck and then the Engineering hull. 

At the back of the saucer we have the impulse engine coloured red but the warp core unit that sits in front of it on the movie refit is yet to be conceived. The issue I found here is that the neck and the saucer of my model don’t appear to be connected very well and with a little pressure to the front of the saucer it tips forward and lifts off the rear of the neck piece. Echoing back to the original version, the central, large registry is missing, instead there are the twin ship numbers on either side of the lower dome and the two large, curved triangular markings also still present. 

Ok. The neck itself is standard refit movie fayre however instead of the double torpedo tune just above the main deflector we have just a single outlet for the powered projectiles. Nor is it painted up, leaving us with an uncoloured weapon port. In fact the neck piece disappoints further with some horribly misaligned windows on both sides. Surprise, surprise.

Down onto the secondary hull and there is a major change in the way in which this has been put together. You will recall from the A and the movie refit editions that the front of the ship had a gaping curved join line from top to bottom. This time that’s been avoided with the top and bottom halves of the hull coming together along a clean and well concealed central point. 

The colour scheme across the whole ship is more in line with the single tone grey of the underwhelming movie refit model from issue two and there’s not even a slight hint of our favourite aztecing to take the edge off. Luckily though the Engineering section is emblazoned with not just the Starfleet pennant on either side but a larger than life ship registry. This is highly irregular and I can’t think of another ship where this happens. 

To the front we have an obvious hark back to the classic style of the Enterprise with the golden coloured external deflector dish. It looks rather odd given the other upgrades across the ship especially alongside those more oblong nacelles thrusting our at the back. It does however seem to be better finished and painted than the one on The Original Series’ model which was a touch more orange.

On the underside of the hull the red and yellow detailing is very similar to that on the movie starship and adds more to breakup the standard grey colour tone. It really has no practical purpose and acts more to ease the eye across the plain hull.

Stepping back along the grey Phase II hull, we find ourselves at the most significant of the physical changes to the Enterprise with the straight, right-angle to body pylons replaced by two sweeping arms that give the ship a go-faster feel. Not as detailed as those on the movie version - most likely because TV is a more forgiving platform than a massive cinema screen - they are topped by the reshaped, more rectangular warp engines. 

In these however there are no translucent warp field grilles but the bussard collectors are the interesting part here because they still carry the red hue from the domes of the original variant of the ship. They look quite odd on the end of this type of engine but in the same breath manage to hold on to the essence of the warp engines as seen in The Original Series.

They aren't quite as cleanly detailed as the engines on the movie version with the warp field grilles cutting off well before the end of the nacelles which also don't have the fins on the outboard sides to reduce the severity of the tapered ends.

As with multiple other starships, the stand is very firm in its grip on the ship, holding the secondary hull in place and then gripping the rear of the saucer - and not too tightly either. Shame is that the clear plastic holder has a terrible fit into the black base.

The magazine with this one is a treasure trove of information and trounces the last edition which was produced for the Concept Enterprise-C and barely discussed the ship. Here we get to talk in-universe about the changes that "would" have taken place before stepping into the design process from Matt Jefferies who did it as a favour for Roddenberry. This is accompanied by some cool sketches of the ship and even parts of the Enterprise that were updated.

Then there's a section dedicated to the construction of the model which was found to be lacking when it came to upgrading it to The Motion Picture big screen standards and was binned off. Some good photos but a bit disappointing that the proof reader didn't spot the chunks of text left in from the Enterprise-B magazine. Duh.

Last up is the story behind the proposed pilot for Phase II entitled In Thy Image which would have returned the franchise to TV. It's a first because this talks of an appearance that never happened! Knowing about what was to come after this, I'm gutted it never went further but then might its existence have changed the course of Star Trek and meant we didn't get The Next Generation and beyond...?

This is one of the must-haves from the collection and a damn fine model even with some minor issues along the way. As a big fan of Phase II and it’s non-existence this was a no-brainer when it dropped and I don’t think you will be disappointed. The build is decent and the joins are satisfactorily lined up in logical places. Not great that the warp engines miss out on translucent grilles but it doesn’t ruin the finished product. A great opportunity to take a closer look at what could well have been if it hadn’t been for ‘mitigating’ circumstances. Now to just try and fit it in with all the other Enterprise models on that shelf...

The USS Enterprise NCC-1701 Phase II Concept is out now from Eaglemoss.

What do you think to this lost link from Star Trek?

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Friday, 2 March 2018

Lord of the Rings: The Official Starships Collection Special Nine: USS Enterprise XCV-330

The specials are always a little larger than life, they're the big boys of the collection, the jewels in the crown - but this one really is, well...BIG.

One of the most desirable and yet most maligned and almost forgotten ships from any point in the Star Trek timeline(s), the striking ring ship has made only one - yes, ONE - speedy appearance in the franchise back at the beginning of the journey into the movies. The XCV-330 is a graceful animal, a huge special unlike anything else that has come from the collection. It's a pretty simple design and a direct homage back to the original concept drawings that Matt Jefferies did for the original Star Trek series. Indeed, this was what the Enterprise could have looked like in another world. Measuring a ridiculous xxcm in diameter, the Enterprise is spectacular in many ways but underwhelming in others. I shall explain.

The prominent double rings of the ship are plastic and therefore very lightweight. On the outside of both of them we have a decalled panel detail that is replicated across the whole blue/grey circumference of the craft.  The strips on the decal are all aligned to each other but there are a couple if you follow it round where you will spot them not running quite parallel to the set to their left or right - but then there are a lot of these stripes to get on on two rings, multiplied by the number of ships made...

The rings are very solid with very little flex in their form. They also have a very clean finish at the edges but the tragedy is that the interior of these surfaces are utterly empty of any hull detail. Both carry parts of the ship name and number in nice big, crisp print so at least you can’t miss that but there's not even the carry over of the small silver squares from one side onto the other which is shown in the magazine.

The stand clips to the bottom of the rear ring, hanging the ship in its (nearly) invisible grip to give the flying effect. Only concern for me here is that the weight of that central section might take a toll on the rings at some point.

Now, this beautifully simple craft is finished off with a central metallic section which hangs from the top of the midpoint between the two rings and gives the ship most of its weight in one lump. 

The panelled neck drops diagonally forward with very blocky colouring and red striping marking out the hull on the descent to the tubular neck. Well worth a look at that chunky engine to the rear which has some very nice edging detail worked into it and has depth around the fins and onto the engine exhaust rather than being a simple, flat unit.  Really loving how the coverings work in sections around that central piece and even have different coloured ends.

Moving forward of the engine there is some more slated, dark grey detail and what I think are the emblems for the Earth fleet running this craft. When you compare this to any of the CG work in the magazine (which I kinda take with a pinch of salt), it's evident that the disparity between the grey and the dark grey is nowhere near as severe as it comes across on the model.

Running forward we have a straight grey painted neck section which, as with the hanging metal body section has no tonal variations to it leaving the whole central section looking very bland indeed. Comparing to the magazine there's again a variation between the two versions of the ship with the model seemingly missing a longer grey callout section that runs almost the length of the neck section as well as the grey slats that are present halfway along. How this was missed or added I can't say but it is an odd omission if the CG is being taken as the reference.

OK, then we get to the head/command section and this, for me is where it falls apart. It's a bummer because the XCV-330 is damn gorgeous and will hold a prime position in my collection however the detail on this forward section is hopeless.

My main gripe is that this ship seems to have been made without the CG designer and the model maker ever managing to link up properly because there are so many little inconsistencies between the two and none more evident than on the front piece. The window alignment to the grooves is, yes, there once again but they don't then match up to the number of windows on the accompanying images. 

The only two areas of the grey hull plating sections that are apparently correctly aligned are the grey stripe to the bottom front and the grey indented circle on the port side. The others appear to be way off the mark. The model also seems to have gained a more dramatic red circle around the side of the module than on the mag pictures. In fact all of the red line detailing appears a lot thicker on the model than elsewhere.

However, the biggest grimaces are left for the front ends of the two cylindrical sections of the forward module. The top one is utterly blank without even the hint of a window, sensor assembly or anything to be honest and the lower one omits that the aerial which protrudes from its end is actually recessed into the structure. I would have thought both of these issues would have been easy enough to correct on such a big ship and the fact it looks unfinished makes for a a lot of dissatisfaction.

Into the magazine and the ship profile is the most minimal ever. Five lines which basically explain...nothing because that's all we know. The following eight pages provide original sketches and screen shots of the process which brought the ring ship to The Motion Picture and also later on Admiral Marcus' desk in Into Darkness. But the story of the design process also covers off how this ship wormed its way back into the Star Trek lore in licenced books such as the Star Trek Chronology and how its physical appearance was used as inspiration for the Vulcan ships in Enterprise.

Through its omission we also get the pics of the Enterprise lineage that hung in Archer's ready room on the NX-01 and Eaglemoss have included the image used on the Ships of the Line calendar as well as a painting that was used in the background of Enterprise.

Now this one is finished off with a real treat in the form of six pages covering the little known and very rarely discussed alien mix from The Motion Picture. These images and explanations give a great deal of background to these one-time-seen races and might answer a lot of fans' questions as to who all those individuals were that turned up, were never discussed and then vanished forever more into the Star Trek ether. Some terrible makeup effects in there from the test shots but give it some leniency since it was the late 1970's! 

Damn this is a Marmite model for me. I absolutely love and adore the fact that Eaglemoss have gone to the effort of producing this as a ship in the collection even though it was only ever seen for a fraction of a scene. The size is perfect, the choice of build materials for the different sections is perfect and the overall simplicity has to be admired but because the accompanying material and the ship do not line up when it comes to the finer details.

Fans will definitely want to get their mitts on this one but it will leave a slightly sour taste that it's not finished off to the top standard you would expect.

How did you get on with the XCV-330? Winner or sloppily executed?

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Singular Propulsion: The Official Starships Collection Issues 118 and 119

Here we go with a hectic month of delayed specials, specials delayed until next month and finally two regular issues that have left me a little needy. 

Opening up the first of the two we return - once again - to Wolf 359. It combines elements from the Galaxy and refitted Constitution Classes into the most compact Starfleet ship in the fleet.  Comprising of three elements - saucer, neck and engine, the Freedom Class USS Firebrand is pretty much devoid of intricacy or delight with the simplest of builds. 

The saucer itself, the top half of which is metal, carries five phaser strips around its elliptical hull rather than a single curved bank. Reflecting its simple and hurried origins for a graveyard scene, the Firebrand has this aura of being almost unfinished with the aztec paint scheme coming across as more dirty than a subtle two tone paintjob. I might also have this feeling because the one I got sent has some rather obvious glue marks to the side of the saucer which you csn clearly make out on the photos. 

The registry is similarly sketchy and although this will never make my favourites list, the fact that it seems incomplete does well to reflect the scene it was used for as well as its preparation for that moment. This was never something that was going to be at the forefront of the show but due to popular demand its now HAD to be there and Eaglemoss have done the best they can from fhe less than perfect source material.  

The saucer is smooth to a fault with only the five phaser banks and an almost missable bridge module to break up the plain surface. Note that there are no panel lines in play, only painted on white and black windows for more sporadic detailing. The bridge module itself barely rises above the hull and is finished with the thin slit of a shuttlebay to the back.

Turned over,  the now trademark metal/plastic border ring is very evident, running about midway round the centre of the primary hull. There are again five phaser banks marked out with three larger to the front and two smaller to the back. As with the top bu not mentioned, each bank does have red trimming at either end - something present on all these The Next Generation era ships. 

There's one more thing to this one because it has a very unique central feature in the shape of a whopping great phaser cannon. It makes the Firebrand more than memorable because its such an unexpected piece of tech to see bolted onto Starfleet vessel. 

That underside is still smooth and azteced but fortunately whoever put it together managed to avoid spreading their gluey fingers onto a second surface.

Down the back now and the borrowed neck section from a Constitution Class Starship is quite the angular contrast against the more curvy lines of both the saucer above and the warp engine below. The window detailing is all in place which is one thing that I find can be missing when it comes to these models. In this case there’s enough room to get them blobbed on and given the distance between the saucer and the engine it would have been obvious if it hadn’t been.

Right at the base of the neck section is a very familiar feature in the shape of a photon torpedo launcher. Resting on top of the engine might not be the safest place to fire high explosives from however it’s painted cleanly and clearly so from an accuracy perspective we have to let it pass. From a logic perspective this is utter madness!

Finally at the base of the Firebrand we have that single warp engine. Bearing all the hallmarks from the Galaxy Class, Eaglemoss have managed to squeeze in both the blue translucent warp field grilles and the crimson red bussard collector giving that much needed depth to the simplest of starships.

The nacelle is well decalled with ship registry and minor tech style callouts which breakup the uniform Starfleet grey overcoat. At the bottom you might also spot a small grey blob thats hanging down. If you’re a little confused I totslly understand because this, if you look closely at the magazine cover, is a tiny navigational deflector. Given the size of this item on the model i can see why it isn’t painted.

Given this is one of the smallest Starfleet ships from the whole collection I’m actually amazed at how seemingly overpowered and overarmed this thing is with multiple phaser banks, that idiotically big cannon and a low-placed torpedo bay. I think the Defiant might have had less weapons...

Issue 118’s magazine gives skant detail on the background of the Freedom Class noting only is main features , the likely heritage of its parts and its role before Wolf 359 as well as its part in the fateful battle. The plan views show how close the model is to the ‘real thing’ plus highlight some of the fiddlier features that have not been coloured due to their size such as that deflector and the torpedo tubes. 

Adding to your library of reference for the fourth season of The Next Generation, we have an interview with series writer Ronald D Moore on his contributions to the show with a strong focus on his stories including Family, Reunion and Redemption, the latter two being part of Moore’s work to revamp and update the Klingon Empire. The next four pages are given over to another key member of the behind the scenes team that made The Next Generation into the show it was, Michael Piller. For me he is the most significant player in the story of the show and the way in which Star Trek developed through Deep Space Nine and into Voyager with its tight storylines and focus on character.

Next to tick off the list is the Hirogen Holoship and it’s the second part of that name which sends chills down my spine. Remember the Federation Holoship from Insurrection? Y’know, the one that looked like a cheap TV remote control? Well upon hearing that we would be seeing this one from Voyager’s seventh season two parter Flesh and Blood, I started on the flashbacks to that review. 

Tragically they do have one thing in common - they’re both pure plastic models. The Federation block was two pieces painted and slapped together but here the luck that the Hirogen has a bit more flair to their starship design has saved what could have been another dire result.

The Hirogen Warship from issue 51 (yes, that long ago!!!) was a decent enough ship and as I start to be more selective on what’s displayed, it still remains out as one of the better craft produced. The Holoship likewise is a good representation being a little more streamlined than its more aggressive cousin. 

The paint scheme is instantly recognisable as being Hirogen with that gold and brown pattern playing out across the whole of the model. First impressions are that it’s a decent build with some nice minutiae to get engrossed with so let’s dive a bit further in.

This slimline starship has a slightly insectoid look to it starting right at the front. Those twin antennae only have a little flexibility in them but then they aren’t the only appendages to be aware of on this ship. 

The front probes lead back to a bullet shaped forward hull section. Here we have some basic hull detailing with grooved bodywork and a distinct bridge module sitting right at the top. Compare the model to the magazine and you can see that the CG emphasises the slight variation in tones between the panels on the hull, keeping instead to a single gold colour for the whole surface. From the bridge there's a raised section of hull which runs the length of the ship to the central, main engine at the rear. Stop when you see the two grill-finished dome structures because these are clearly not the correct colour versus the show or the plan views in the magazine. They have a more red tint to their finish while on the model they are rendered in the same gold as the rest of the hull. This error also covers the two similar structures on the underside.

Now this ship has a pretty clever build to it with a top and bottom half placed together and with a join hidden away thanks to the brown/gold wing formations that extend along the sides. Top and bottom these protruding pieces have some raised detail but then have some more spindly appendages sweeping rearwards. Also that paint scheme - it has an incredibly slight hue change dependant on the right light meaning it's not quite the solid colour you initially believe it to be.

I'm actually surprised that Eaglemoss have decided to keep these rather flexible aerials on the model as usually they are omitted because they are harder to reproduce although maybe their equipment is offering better results these days, I don’t exactly know. 

The hull is solidly built and evades the need for a particularly detailed paint job by adding a ton of surface detail, ridges and call outs. The biggest of these features of sorts have to be the horizontal fins that hide that central join but there’s also two extremities that seem to act as shields to the outside two of the three engines (the warp engines). As you do look towards the back, the panelling on the main hull becomes less and contrasts to the increased detail on those side fins. The grey/gold combination almost has a camouflage/worn effect to it and unusually it's not symmetrical left to right. For me that's a really great feature on this ship and something that's not often seen in this mass produced collection. That uneven nature gives a more hand-finished feel to the Holoship although some of the grey seems to have bled over onto the orange dotted sections to the rear of the craft just ahead of the engine exhausts.

I do have to correct myself because if you are paying attention to the Holoship you'll realise I've messed up - it does have a metal section that runs inside the craft and can only be seen at the back in the form of the central engine. That weight also cleverly helps to balance the model when it comes to slotting the impulse engine exhaust into the rather unique stand which grips only that protruding piece of the Holoship - might not be the most secure fitting ever by the way.

On the bottom the central panelling pattern is identical to that on the upper side and it also carries on the two slight golden shade variations in the paint. One difference though is that the detailing on the top of the two (outer) warp engines is a darker orange shade than the slots on the top which have a more yellowed finish to them. It's a minor touch but as with that non-symmetrical grey paintwork on both sides of the fins but it's these things which make it a bit different as does the tiny etched detail that circles the forward section in a slightly orange band.

Challenge with this one though is that it's not very exciting as a single episode Hirogen craft. It's barely memorable from the back end of Voyager and is overshadowed by its smaller warship version that played a part in season four of the series.

Opening the issue 119 magazine gives us a recap of the Flesh and Blood story in quite a lot of detail and with very little focus on the ship itself. Eaglemoss follow this up with the plan views which highlight just how different the hull finish could have been and how the warp engines bring life to the hull through the orange vents that are under the engine carapaces.

Robert Blackman then explains the design and varied build process for the Hirogen armour and how it changed from the fourth to the seventh season which shed a lot of weight for the actors to have to carry. Finally - and well worth the admission price alone for this issue - is a six page interview from Bryan Fuller about his involvement with Voyager which was conducted just after the show finished in 2001. Covering stories including Flesh and Blood as well as The Raven, Barge of the Dead and Mortal Coil, it discusses Fuller's time on the show through the latter stages of its journey.

So, yet another very average month from the Halls of Eaglemoss which adds to the legendary Wolf 359 fleet and puts some more meat onto the bones of the Voyager range within the series. I've not found either of these ships to be that incredible. They both offer some nice features but each month I find with these single appearance ships that I do want for more. Fortunately next month we are going to get that with the arrival - finally - of the USS Bozeman from Cause and Effect and also the Xhosa from Deep Space Nine as used by Sisko's other half, Kasidy Yates.

I'm geinuinely excited by the prospect of both these ships much more than I have for a while since the Bozeman is such an iconic part of The Next Generation and one of its most important episodes.

How do you feel about this month's ships? Is the Freedom Class a winner? What's your thoughts on the Holoship?

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

New Ways of Thinking: Star Trek Discovery The Official Starships Collections Issue One: USS Shenzhou

The USS Discovery might be the main ship of its series namesake but as fans will know it wasn't the first hero starship of the latest Star Trek show.

These larger starships come at just under three times the price of the regular starship collection issues and are limited to just one every four weeks. How will we survive? 

Scaling in relative to the special issues in both price and cost, the USS Shenzhou is a masterful piece of work from Eaglemoss. Packaged in its own polystyrene carton in a unique Discovery Collection box, opening it up and taking the first look at her nearly took my breath away. It seems that Eaglemoss may well have a real winner on their hands with this new series.

Getting her out of the pack and taking a closer look impresses even further. The upper hull from the front of the saucer to the shuttlebay at the rear is one solid piece of metal with the shuttle landing deck, the warp pylons and engines plus the lower half of the saucer all being in the lighter plastic material - much in the same way as you would find in the other much longer running Starships Collection.

The detail is just as good as you would expect in the special issues but somehow it feels as though Eaglemoss have really nailed this collection given that issue one launches just before the finale of the first season and in the fact that they have had direct access to the original files from which to build these brand new scale replicas.

The saucer section itself is incredibly eye-catching with that two shades of grey paint scheme and then the sharp red striping bearing the registry and name which arcs around either side of the hull as well as cutting a scythe down the centre of the circle. Right at the front we have the main deflector including the double prong and this little dish is actually made in plastic and attached to the front. 

You do notice the lack of purple hue around the dish and also just behind it, leaving this forward feature a little dark yet there are still some lovely finishing surface details around and on the deflector itself. To either side it is guarded by two "shoulder"-like features which bear recessed hull detail.

Examine these more and you'll note that these should not be so flush to the hull as they are on the model and that they are missing the white dashing to indicate windows. In fact the surface detail in both these hollows is a bit blurred. While we are on the subject of windows, those coloured around the edge of the saucer do not line up correctly and are straying across both the dark and light grey striping that marks the end of the hull.

Step back from the deflector and you have a raised central feature which extends right back to the top of the singular shuttlebay. There are a series of white dashes to indicate the windows on the hull and Eaglemoss have wisely avoided the classic recessed windows with an attempted paint alignment which has failed on virtually every model since the original collection started four years ago. 

What I would say here is that given the Shenzhou is supposed to be an older ship and that the red paint coupled with the greys does make it seem of a more senior age, there is a glaring lack of aging on the surface of the craft. 

One of the more distinct things about the hull to the rear of the primary hull are the fins and the printed surface detail which has been worked into the original ship mould. The saucer has some sublime subtle hull panel lining while the darker panelling is also privvy to some careful work which impresses when it comes to accuracy.

Take note that there are four small squares to either side of the saucer. Look at the mag and you'll see there appear to be phaser banks but on the model these must have just been too damn fiddly to reproduce and are missing from the scale Shenzhou. While I am niggling, it could have done with a bit of weathering just to show the age of the NCC-1227 which has seen, I would guess, much better days.

Also back there we have the ship name across the top of the shuttlebay again in hull colour against the red decals. The added colour on this one really helps bring the ship to life and helps highlight her most important attributes. The shuttlebay door itself seems a little under detailed and fairly simple, sitting just above the main join line. Either side we have two pink hued impulse engines painted out rather than being in translucent plastic.

The stand fits around the back end of the Shenzhou very cleanly, gripping above the impulse engines and underneath the lower pylon. Very smooth fit and holds the weight well although my plastic sprew was a pain in the ass to get into the standard black base. Note as well, Eaglemoss, make sure you have a spellchecker as it should be labelled Shenzhou and not Shenzou!

On the underside the most prominent feature is that underslung bridge with its large forward windows. The detailing here is less vibrant however it continues with the two shades of grey and red highlights. Significantly though the windows painted on  to the two concentric darker grey bands are perfectly aligned which leaves me wondering how the hell they cocked up the ones on the top.

The panelling lines are also a lot stronger in the plastic underside in comparison to the top of the saucer.  Again we have some lost definition when it comes to the recessed sections towards the front but the amount of defined panel lines and also the inclusion of the teeny tiny registries to the port and starboard sides more than makes up for the lack of depth on some of the sections.

The distinctive red markings draw your attention back to the business end of the Shenzhou and the warp engine assembly. This is great piece of design and build work with struts arcing out from the underside of the saucer and also between the two nacelles creating some interesting open space work that is fairly unusual for a Starfleet vessel.

The lower of the two supports again bears that dark and light grey colour scheme blocked out to remove that solid uniform finish. In fact it's very noticable that there is no aztec pattern anywhere on the Shenzhou leaving the four different hull colours to define the ship in a very different way to anything else we've seen in recent years in a Starfleet vessel. We shall return to that issue shortly...

Then we're down into the warp engines with a more aggressive look than we've seen before. These are almost blades to cut through the fabric of space rather than the tubes or oblongs that we see on an Enterprise for example. The very shape of them is spectacular, sweeping to a sharp point at the rear. Nor are these particularly flexible which I might have expected from the length of the engines.

I would be careful around children and the points however because they are quite sharp. Looking from the front edge back you can see that there is an inset translucent section within their structure opening to a vent-like slit about a third of the way along. It parallels to the red markings again present as a continuation of the paintwork on the main hull and with this on both sides, the engines are also finished off with a Starfleet pennant that's probably more suited to the movie era than to ten years before The Original Series. These might be small but from a timeline point of view they are massively out.

I suppose that's actually the thing with the Shenzhou; it highlights the creativity of John Eaves' work as well as the advances that Eaglemoss have made combined with the chance of recreating this direct from the source reference materials that are mere months old rather than decades.

It's a stunning model and the scale works wonders although many will feel it is horrendously expensive at just shy of £30 a pop - and even more wallet destroying if you're already committed to The Official Starships Collection and the Graphic Novel Collection.

Also in the box this month we have a leaflet giving an overview of what's to come plus the first magazine. The artwork is a bit of a bummer because it shows off some of the subtleties missing from the good but not perfect scale model. For one there are those missing phaser banks but also there's the screamingly obvious aztec pattern. It's not as blatant as before but every CG image of the ship clearly shows off the tonal differences. Frustrating? Yes.

The compact 16 page mag, which fits inside the delivery box, is spit between the ship profile and then a designing section. It's a format that Official Starship Collection fans will know in a second as it's been around for over a 100 issues elsewhere. The stories around its creation and design necessities to be distinctive from previous Starfleet ships as well as being different enough from the USS Discovery is fascinating and with all this it feels right that this should be the first craft released into the wild as part of this new series.

Ok, let's shut this down finally. It's going to be an incredible if expensive collection. As yet the subscriber gifts are still unannounced so signing up is a little bit of a gamble (looking at you freebie Borg Cube) but I don;t think it'll disappoint in any way when it comes to the main attractions. Winner - yes. Path to bankruptcy - definitely.

What are your thoughts on the first of the collection? What are you looking forward to?

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