Sunday, 23 April 2017

Filling Out the (Kelvin) Past: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues Six and Seven

The 2009 reboot movie has to be one of the elements of the Star Trek franchise that has been mined the most in recent years.

In the case of the newly released Graphic Novel Collection from Eaglemoss, three of the first seven issues have been in some way linked directly to the JJ Abrams film with Countdown and now Nero and The Official Movie Adaptation adding weight. 

But before you groan about the reboot taking focus or that it's not great, I'd recommend visiting - or maybe revisiting the expanded stories that came out of the reboot. Countdown itself is a brilliant story that links the Prime Universe with the Kelvin timeline, including Picard, Data and a host of other recognisables to gel the two visions of Star Trek together.

Nero (issue six) adds another element to the mixture. While Countdown deals with all the matters leading up to the disappearance of the Narada and Spock, this tale from Tim Jones and Mike Johnson gets into the detail of precisely what Nero and his Romulan associates were doing for the best part of a quarter of a century. I can tell you they weren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for Spock.

Another great piece of Star Trek comes from IDW with this one. The depth that the graphic novels adds to the Kelvin timeline is exceptional here and in all the other related volumes. The artwork too across the JJ-verse is also uniform giving it an important sense of continuity. A lot of Nero's scenes were meant to be included but ultimately were cut for time (even the prison scene had a clip used in the promo trailers) so we can take this as near as canon as possible. Indeed, those parts remain in the novelisation but more on that shortly.

Of the releases thus far and including the adaptation of the 2009 movie this slips into second place behind the exceptional Spock: Reflections which has already received a second read-through for being just so damn brilliant. 

Nero's character in his eponymous graphic novel is perhaps a little edgier than we got to see on the screen. The brutality he shows towards Captain Robeau of the Kelvin as well as the grief and pain he is suffering are more vividly realised within the pages of this story. It treats the Romulans with respect and might even help you get another angle on the reboot movie which doesn't expand Nero much beyond his revenge seeking. This expands the character and rounds the story much more satisfactorily and ticks off a lot of questions including that chunk missing from his ear.

It's a good read that's backed up by an entertaining romp through Gold Key's impression of Star Trek from the end of the 1960's in When Planets Collide. Now I actually read this edition and the one included with the motion picture adaptation through cover to cover and slowly as not to miss anything and I definitely didn't.

It's just as camp and retro as always with a ton of obvious oversights thrown in for... well...I'm not sure anymore. Spock works out a challenge with a set square at one point, Scotty has blonde hair and the Enterprise likes taking a dip into the atmosphere. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Abrams was taking this as his base reference material given some of the instances filmed for Into Darkness.

Stepping from issue six into issue seven we have the graphic interpretation of the 2009 movie reboot. Another damn fine piece of reading if ever there was. Admittedly it's a shaved down version of the movie so don't expect a full blow by blow account since there's only a certain amount of space. For instance the chase sequence between Kirk and the creatures on Delta Vega is severely chopped which manages to keep the suspense but not get dragged out over about 15 pages.  Here we do get a good look through at several deleted scenes and an alternative order to the film which, as said, also exists in the novelisation but was switched for dramatic effect onscreen.

Stylistically this is just as good as Countdown, Spock: Reflections and Nero but still manages to feel like a little bit of a cash in just being an adaptation of the movie. What I find that these 2009-linked novels does show is just how far IDW has come since The Space Between in the quality of the material they are capable of producing. This may very well just be down to the different style of the artists that I seem to be preferring. The recreations of the Narada, the destruction of the Kelvin and the first look at the new Enterprise are just beautifully presented in this volume. To be honest the recreation of all of the movie is pretty impressive with some very precise copies of scenes and moments taken directly off the screen and onto the page.

Even though I've seen this a ton of times, experiencing it in a different format really made me appreciate some of the finer points of the reboot and helped connect me more strongly to the movie thanks to the insertion of those deleted moments.

The Voodoo Planet, the included Gold Key extra this time is the most interesting of their Star Trek attempts to date with a weird concept of a paper mache Earth and some Vulcan mystic rituals. It all gets a bit over far-fetched here and at no point could I feasibly imagine the crew of the Enterprise being involved in what I can only describe as a "caper" of this type. I can barely imagine what we have left to come from the Gold Key archive and this is only issue seven.

If I'm looking for redeeming features here it has to be the fact that Gold Key managed to keep Star Trek alive in print for the best part of a decade with this one marking the last story to be released while the series was still being produced in the US. 

If I go back to the start of the collection just a few months ago I was pretty skeptical over this part of the collection but after giving the later two stories a good chance to impress I found them to be...ok. One hundred percent these are boys own adventure type stories that have little to none of the underlying moralising and deeper meaning that televised Star Trek attempted keeping it much more to superficial action adventure, danger and explosions. If you've skipped through them I'd go back and have a read at least once.

More exciting might be the subs gift that appeared this issue. Containing six mini movie posters in a tin, these little additions will have more added to each ten issues. With the tin this time we have the posters for The Motion Picture, The Undiscovered Country, Generations, Nemesis, the 209 reboot and an oddment in the Countdown to Darkness titled card rather than Into Darkness. The quality of the prints is decent on some and somewhat gravelly on others - the Countdown to Darkness one especially isn't the best. It's a nice touch and a decent set once complete. We are informed that subscribers will be receiving further prints every ten issues. For reference premium subscribers will be also receive one of four photo-novels every 20 issues. That's a lot of stuff with the metallic Gold Key covers due with delivery four and the Federation/Klingon bookends also coming with delivery six.

Next month's double brings us to Star Trek: Starfleet Academy again from IDW and our first non-IDW production with Marvel Comics Early Voyages Part 1. Good to see us stepping into other publishing realms at long last!

Looking forward to a particular story? Concerned that it's been IDW-heavy so far?

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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cue Training Montage: The Official Starships Collection Issues 96 and 97

We are now just three issues away from 100 and the mythical Daedalus Class.
Hold fire though because first we have another remastered starship and a split-second guest-starring one man craft to help get us there.
My opinion of the remastered stuff to date is not great. So far I've found every one below par in some respect. Indeed a friend of mine noted, when i said this, that the Antares was decent....but only after a dirt wash. I rest my case.
I can't off the top of my head and there aren't many more remastered ships to go and while it's brilliant that we are getting these recent rare additions to the Star Trek universe included i don't think their design and by proxy their model representation has been all that wonderful.

In many instances it's been a case of turning an unrecognisable blob into something fresh. Mike Okuda's Orion Scout Ship is one such fine example which has even incorporated that spinny blob element into its form.

Originally appearing in Journey to Babel and reformatted into something more distinguishable over 40 years later, it's one to add to the blink-and-miss shelf of starships. First impression is that this is a very small model but the size of the rear circle structure actually determines the size of the rest of the craft based around, i would think, stand shape and boxing restrictions.
Starting from the front the Scout Ship has a small wedge shaped command unit which carries a very noticeable two shades of grey mottled together providing a very nice worn finish.
Arcing above and below the tight command section are two weapons pods. There's very little detail on either of these pieces either due to size or possibly that there was none on the CG model for the remastered episode since that's where the designs are, I believe, pulled from. Back a little from the module and the small connecting neck section branches out into an arc which then connects into the rear of the craft. Both the bridge module and this connecting arc are metal with the rest of the small, fast ship in plastic.

A direct homage to an original element of the first Matt Jefferies USS Enterprise, the circular enclosure has a well crafted, ridged design element to it that does emphasise the two tone grey colour scheme. I think if it wasn't for the shade difference this would be very low on my appreciation list but this does give the Scout Ship a bit of freestyle and personality. Well, to be fair its the eight translucent balls at the centre of the circle that really make the feature element of the model.

Held in place by eight spindly rods these are the beating heart of the craft and in "reality" would spin to line up with the similar spinning effect that was used when it was just a blob of light in 1967. The rods are basic in design and are more functional than there to admire as part of the design. In fact they are plain from one end to the other.

Now this area of the Scout Ship is high on detail and one of those unique and fiddly areas we model fans love to see. The finish and construction on this bit has come out really well. Certainly waiting 97 issues to hone those building skills has worked as this does look a bit battered and outdated. The bridge itself is poorly finished with a very smooth surface but the further back, the better the result.  

The inside of the engine ring is a smooth finish however which does ruin a bit of the starship illusion but the externals there are pretty good with a repeated pattern marked out around the full circumference.

The Scout Ship is made to look even smaller when you get it on the stand. The plastic grip slots nicely into the bottom curve of the engine circle but because she is quite compact, the Orion ship sits to the rear of the stand leaving a massive gap to the front. It just looks a bit odd.

The magazine once more shows off a lot more weathering, panel detail and finishing touches than the model does which is a little tragic since the images in this issue make it look much better. Maybe a dirt wash will bring out the finer points on this one however I'm not sure it will inspire me any more. The recount of Journey to Babel gives very little on the Scout Ship nor does the subsequent Designing section really push the boundaries on this issue. It was very necessary to make this craft visible for the episode however it is a fleeting glance (even less than the Trainer from the next issue). It's a cute little ship bit one that is for all intents and purposes pretty easily forgettable along with some of the other additions to the remastered The Original Series. Please bear in mind I'd love to see a Doomsday Machine at some point to make it all worthwhile.

Finishing out the issue we have DC Fontana's memories from her time on The Original Series appropriately focused around the seminal Journey to Babel which introduced Spock's parents as well as the memorable Andorian and Tellarite races. 

So to the 97th issue and a craft that was little seen on screen but played a huge part in the fabric of the episode - the Starfleet Academy Trainer from The Next Generation's The First Duty. A compact one/two man craft the trainer is only capable of impulse speed at best and one of the few ships we've seen that's limited in its range.

The oddest thing with the Trainer on first inspection is the yellowed paint scheme. Since it doesnt appear in the episode for that long i couldn't recall the precise shade but ill take this as exact since the research for the collection is meticulous. It does however give the impression that you might have left your model out in direct sunlight for six months. Aside from the not-Starfleet-grey paint-job the model is a great piece for display and I might even group all the "one-manners" together for a nice bit of visual comparison.  Running front to back, purists will straight away know that this model is not 100% screen accurate as licencing issues prevented the use of the GI Joe (Action Force as it was in the UK) Cobra emblem on the nose. 

Instead, in keeping with The First Duty, Eaglemoss have used the Nova Squadron roundel. Technically its much more befitting and on point so there can't really be a complaint that they thought logically what could replace the red serpent.

As with all of the single-seat craft the cockpit is blacked out before the neck of the ship plunges straight to the rear. I am amazed with the panel detail on this one, perhaps more than a lot of others because of the sheer amount of lines crossing the hull. The precision of the grey sections to the yellowed areas is incredibly sharp but the craftsmanship doesn't finish there. This is one of the most heavily decalled ships in the collection. 

Just take a look at the number of red edging strips placed across the wings, around the cockpit and along the neck of the Trainer. Slapped on the two stubby wings we also have the Starfleet emblem and the United Federation of Planets wording just to clarify whom the ship belongs to if you weren't sure.

My favourite thing about the Trainer though has to be the teeny tiny writing on three of the grey (access?) panels. Squint up close and you'll see that this isn't just a jumble of letters but properly scripted warnings designed for the Academy ship. Now that's a sign of dedication and awareness of your fan base. Trekkies love a good bit of precision and this goes that extra mile and a half and more than balances out for not getting the geeky pleasure of the Cobra logo on the nose.

Even on the underside of the Academy Trainer the paneling and edging detail continues once more including a whopping great Starfleet pennant that adorns the centre of the ship and is applied perfectly. In fact I couldn't spot a single red line that wasn't where it should be, was kinked or split. Top marks.

The surface detail on the Trainer really is exemplary. Everything is precise, aligned and adds real character to this ship. Certainly with such a shallow craft having the surface detail - including that bit of greebling towards the back - builds an appreciable depth to the ship.

So, killer question; Best small craft of the collection? Tragically I have to say yes and why tragically? Well, i really didn't want to nor did I expect to like this one. It never appealed to me as one that would be included in the series nor one that would actually turn out to be such a cracking little ship. Even as I've been writing the review I've found my affections for this little ship have increased and it ain't half a great replica.

One disappointment is the centre line where the upper metal and lower plastic sections come together. The join is absolutely fine and clean at all points around the craft however the paint work on the black detailing which is recessed at this point is a bit sloppy with some parts not quite finished to the line and bits of the main yellow hull can be seen. For a series which has had some great finishing paint flourishes this is a bit rough given how precise the lines are at every other point on the hull.

Even without warp nacelles, Eaglemoss have still managed to slip in a few translucent sections to represent the impulse engines (blue) and the thrusters (red) fitted into the rear of the structure. They aren't a stand out part but again they exemplify the accuracy and effort that Eaglemoss are still putting into the collection as we near the 100th edition with no real sign of it slowing down for at least another year.

The all-important stand fitting test is a success with the Trainer as it slots firmly into place at the rear with no effort at all and provides that cool illusion of the ship in flight - just not doing the Koolvort Starburst of course (you need another four to try that out and even then its not recommended).

Turning to the 16 page magazine the opening section offers up the high quality CG close ups that have become an expectation in the series. There's always a fraction of variance from the model and i find it interesting even now to see what could be done in metal and plastic and what was either too fiddly, too expensive or too time consuming to make a reality for collectors. Of course this section provides the chance to reflect on the fifth season The Next Generation episode and also leads nicely to the later piece with Wil Wheaton reflecting on his four year stint (and couple of one episode returns) as boy genius turned Ensign turned Traveller Wesley Crusher.

May is just around the corner and with it will be issues 98 and 99 showcasing the Nova Class modified USS Rhode Island from Voyager's finale Endgame and then the Assimilated Arctic Transport from Enterprise's Borg story Regeneration. Very excited by that second one!

Also we might see the next special, the USS Franklin, break cover and land on doorsteps. The latest shots of the eighth special make it look like it could be one of the best of the series full stop. There have also been sightings of the Franklin ship plaque set to be available around the same time and maybe a shot of the ninth special, the Swarm ship also from the most recent movie, Beyond. Add to that the latest sneak peeks at the first version of the USS Titan and there's a lot to get hot under the starships collar about.

In the coming weeks I'll also be dropping an anticipation post for the next chunk of issues now we definitely know that the Bajoran Transport and the Klingon D5 will be issues 101 and 102 respectively...

Keeping up with the Starships Collection? You can still subscribe by following the link in the left sidebar or maybe drop your thoughts on the latest issues in the comments below!

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Friday, 7 April 2017

Retreading the Shadow? Star Trek Continues Unveils Episode Eight

The USS Defiant returns courtesy of writer Judy Burns in the eighth episode from Star Trek Continues. Beware there WILL be SPOILERS.

A sequel of sorts to the classic third season Star Trek episode The Tholian Web which i discussed only a week or so ago, Still Treads the Shadow starts off with a big question and a potential contradiction against a certain Enterprise two-parter but resolves that dilemma fairly quickly although it will make you think of a few other similar instances.

Y'see the immediate challenge with the story is that it does parallel at least a couple of existing Star Trek episodes, namely The Next Generation's Second Chances and to a minor extent Time Squared from the show's evolutionary second season.  Not to dwell too much on the story and save the enjoyment for your viewing but Still Treads the Shadow brings the crew of the Enterprise into contact with a Kirk who believes that he was abandoned when the Defiant phased out into another dimension. Suffice to say that's not precisely what occurred and leaves the universe with a second Kirk. Time has passed somewhat more quickly for the new arrival who is aged around 80 and has spent a good proportion of time - a good proportion of 300 years - in stasis. What transpires is that the Defiant computer has become sentient, gained the name of Tiberius and sought out a way to get Kirk home.

This Defiant is one that has undergone a severe number of modifications over the time it's been gone from the Prime Universe including the ability to hit Warp 15 and is intrinsically linked to two black holes which provide an additional danger to the USS Enterprise as we come to experience.

There's more than a little hint of 2001: A Space Odyssey in here as well as we experience a Kirk two way between the computer that was his only friend and company for decades and then a three-way James T fest as things begin to unravel. The friendship with the Defiant computer is not too far from the crumbling connection between Bowman and HAL in the classic sci-fi movie even down to the nature of their final meetings and the monotone rumble of Tiberius' voice. I dare you not to think about Daisy when the computer speaks or wonder about pod bay doors.

Mignogna is absolutely front and centre here playing Kirk in triplicate as both the older and younger versions plus putting in duty as the voice of the Defiant computer aka Tiberius.  In fact it's such a strong Kirk episode that while everyone gets their moments to play and their catch of dialogue they are all very much playing second fiddle to the lead actor.  That in no way is meant to be derogatory to the rest of the cast but the very nature of the script relies on Mignogna's strength as an actor to carry it off and carry it through to the end. He drives every interaction and every scene because of Kirk's prominence in the story which is, ironically exactly the opposite of The Tholian Web where Kirk is absent for the majority of the episode. 

Spock is almost completely relegated to a science role and the rest of the cast - Chekov, Sulu and Uhura especially - are left with little to do except man their stations and relate events taking place off-screen. For recurring cast Kipleigh Brown and Cat Roberts they get minimal screen-time but again good to see them returning for another round of Continues

McCoy fairs decently once again although Chuck Huber does seem to be summoning up his deepest inner DeForest a little more than usual in this story and it might just slip into hammy territory. I can let it slide because Huber's southern doctor is such a great take on the original and here he does play a strong part of the story.     

Michelle Specht's McKennah actually does some counselling this time allowing her to play off the on-screen-all-the-time Mignogna who doesn't even seem to take a breath. Specht gets to be involved with arguably the best scene of the show as we see the older, wearier version of Kirk open up about his experience on the Defiant and its effects on him; the pain of taking four months to remove all the bodies of the dead crew for instance. 

Cleverly the end of this scene flips onto the younger Kirk and allows McKennah a moment to make him realise what needs to be done to help his older, lonely self before allowing the two Kirk's the chance to talk. Here Mignogna delivers a sterling speech (as the older Kirk) about how his view on his role as a captain has changed. For me this is absolutely the pinnacle of the story as he changes into a truly tragic character now lost in the place he knew so well. 

It's the older Kirk's relationship with the guest starring Rekha Sharma (best known for her time on Battlestar Galactica as one of the "Final Five") that acts as one of the focal points for Still Treads the Shadow but not as much as the Kirk/Kirk/Tiberius triumvirate.

Sharma isn't as prominent as other guest stars of recent episodes (Gigi Edgley or Clare Kramer for example), more gelling into the cast and acting within that circle rather than being a stand-out character around which the story is etched. I believe this is a better way of handling the episode in that the true stars remain the established cast themselves without too much being overblown about the guest. Rekha Sharma is more than capable in the role but I did feel that the relationships with the two Kirk's was not explored as much as they could have been. It almost felt as though they were skated over and not looked into deeply enough, indeed it's a good way through the episode before we really understand the connection between the captain and the scientist.

The parallels between the Kirk/Avi Samara and Kirk/Tiberius relationships are interesting to watch as we see a lost friend versing a jealous companion who has conditioned the older captain for many years. It's a distinct case of examining what has been forced upon Kirk versus a friendship that was lost over time. 

Still Treads the Shadow is, for all intents and purposes, a solid episode of Star Trek Continues from start to finish. The plot is sound, the acting is faultless and the CG is perfect but the problem is that for the most part it's horribly unoriginal.

Not only do the repetition of plotlines from other Star Trek episodes nag at me but I even felt there was even a blatant link across to 90's sci-fi flick Event Horizon with note of multiple realities and the whole black hole as a power source spin. I half-expected that the Defiant had been to Hell and back with all the black hole action that was going on at one point and that might even have improved the episode.

I can't fault Continues for effort - not one bit - but I was expecting more than this considering the quality of their run to date and the fact that this comes from the pen of a classic Star Trek writer in Judy Burns. I really really want to love this story because of it's links to The Tholian Web but the niggles get the better of me every time. Round that off with the knowledge that older Kirk won't survive the episode - something which you can pretty much guess from the word "go" and you can see where I was left needing. Of course you could say that it's the journey to the sacrificial point which is what the episode is really about and I wouldn't argue with you but having him sacrifice himself and save the life of Avi was all just too cliched at the end. Likewise the reviewing of the captain's logs from the aging Kirk on the lost Defiant. I'd have thought a lot of those inner conflicts would have been dealt with in the first year or so not over such a long period of time but hey, dramatic effect an' all...

Still Treads the Shadow may well be my least favourite of the Continues episodes to date purely because of the "seen it before" factor. I love this show because it's kept The Original Series alive (god knows how under the new guidelines) but yet I just couldn't get excited here. I really was disappointed that such great promise gave out so little twist and vibrancy that I've come to love from the diverse range of stories that the show has explored thus far. With only a few episodes guaranteed (nine through eleven) I hope that the remaining few are more original and thought-provoking than this.

What did you think to Still Treads the Shadow? Good episode or an average offering?

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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Worst Kept Secret Or It Rainns But Never Pours

Less than 24 hours after the season finale of The Walking Dead and Sonequa Martin-Green has, at last, been confirmed as a member of the Discovery cast.

As if the recent cast photo for James "Sarek" Frain's birthday wasn't enough to cement her inclusion in the show we had to wait until they killed her off in The Walking Dead before it could actually be said outside of hushed whispers and halls of rumour.

It's no surprise but at least we now officially have a series lead in the form of Lieutenant Commander Rainford with all her caveats as we commented a fair while ago. Erm. But hang on. It actually seems that her character will be named Michael Burnham, first officer of the USS Discovery. Honesty I hope they keep away from the 'Number One' suggestion since that would be a big misstep. Keep this character 100% original and interesting for this new adventure please.

Martin-Green has already been talking about her role in the show, stating that there was only a very short break between the end of her role on The Walking Dead and taking up her position on the starship Discovery. Plus she's described the new series as "rawer and gritier" which is to be expected given the time we are now in, comparable shows that are available and the upping of the ante visually as well as in the scripts since Enterprise departed in 2005.

Which leads nicely into the other major news that we're going to be seeing Harcourt Fenton Mudd one more time. 

I am not in any way at all, ever, a fan of Harry Mudd. The two episodes that featured the Roger C Carmel character - Mudd's Women and I, Mudd were loose attempts at Star Trek comedy in some ways and just come off as a bit dated today. Mudd reappeared in an episode of The Animated Series and was namechecked in Into Darkness. I thought we had seen the last but now we are told that the galaxy's only mustachioed rogue trader and conman is back for a prequel of sorts. 

In Discovery it will be The Office's Rainn Wilson taking over the role and I can only pray that this will be a) one episode or at the worst sporadic appearances just in season one. I just don't like the character but this recasting might well turn my opinion. Both this and the casting of Wendy Crewson (24, The Santa Clause, Airforce One...) as a Starfleet Admiral seem to fall into the prospect of episodic casting rather than main crew as we know that filming of the series itself has moved from the pilot into the rest of the stories. However, here's my issue - is Discovery mining The Original Series far too early in it's run? OK so we knew there would be some crossovers given the time frame but now we have two recognisable faces that will be seen in the first half of a 13 episode season. Deep Space Nine did manage it with the Duras sisters in A Man Alone right after Picard appeared in Emissary, The Next Generation stumbled with The Naked Now after a touching cameo from DeForest Kelley in Encounter at Farpoint but this does feel like desperation to some degree. I'm not convinced it's a good move. A bold move absolutely but perhaps not a positive one. What's next? Sevrin from The Way to Eden?!

With this news we have to now assume that the full crew has been assembled and the names we already know must be the main cast for at least the first season. Whatever comes out of the CBS stable now must be guest stars for the first set of episodes with Martin-Green's official inclusion  delayed so as not to give away anything about the season finale of The Walking Dead but that didn't happen in the slightest.

One other bit of slightly cool news was that something that might have been in the new show was spotted in transport in the US recently. Could this be some form of civilian transport? The font certainly fits with the Star Trek frame as does the design but it could well be from any sci-fi series or film currently in production. Worth a speculate!

Aaaaand finally, there's that "King of the Klingons" remark which led a ton of fans into speculating whether Chris Obi (man is that guy awesome on Twitter) is indeed some kind of warrior royalty. Aside from producing a ridiculous amount of clickbait articles across the internet I believe that this was more of a turn of phrase regarding Obi's performance in the series rather than stating he is head of the Klingons. It would make more sense anyway otherwise there's a lot of background that won't fit. From his energetic videos on Twitter I expect a similarly animated performance during Discovery

Are we happy to see Harry Mudd back in Star Trek? What do you read into this character addition?

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Thursday, 30 March 2017

FCD: Preview and Tribute

For the last three years I have been a big fan of the First Contact Day events in the U.K.

They may not be the vast, globe-dominating Showmasters pieces, crazily priced, attended by thousands and milked for every penny possible because they are better than that in my opinion and FCD is genuinely produced by fans and run with love for the genre and all it encompasses.

Whether it's been the Leicester Space Centre in 2015 (did we really all fit into that one room?!!!), the Telford Park Inn hotel in 2016 or this year, the Telford International Centre, every minute has been entertaining, fun and amazing to experience. It's given me the chance to meet up with fellow fans I've only chatted to on the internet (Dan Adams!), have a scout through some memorabilia, see a Red Shirt world record be created and chat to Trekkies and actors from the franchise that I love. 

Indeed, to this day, two of my favourite interviews have come out of FCD from John Carrigan and Aron Eisenberg. Both were a delight to talk to and it was only though the universe of FCD that I got a chance to meet both of these gents; thank you.

It truly is a fan event from fans for fans and at its core it comes down to the unwavering efforts and energy of Wil Ross and David Limburg. Now this week I had hoped to chat to the faces of FCD but due to their focus on the event other things have taken a much greater priority and I believe it's really important to recognise their efforts because man, do they put in a lot of effort, time and their very souls.

Hell, Out of the Ashes 2016 was their brilliant recovery from a series of crushing blows which totalled the original plan for FCD (least said the better). Others might have walked away but these guys didn't, ploughing time and funds into the event which was, in the end, a resounding success but came at a price which could have grounded this year's event before its name was even whispered.

Their spirit and ethic is at the beating heart of FCD and has been since the very beginning making each event bigger and building on the success of the previous year. Now I can't speak for them but it does seem these guys - and the team they have in support - pretty much live FCD when they're not doing the "day job". Every day there seems to be some new news from these two, something else that's happening and there's a real feeling of passion and love for the subject and the event itself. I wish I knew these guys better than catching them once a year in the flesh and then on a smattering of Skype calls because they are some of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever met. Each time I've been to FCD there's always been a warm welcome and the team are always accommodating. It's a wonderful experience.

What I never understand is some of the grief that the FCD team get because things don't quite work out. So what if Jonathan Frakes couldn't make it or things changed the format of last year? They still soldiered on through and made it the best it could possibly be. I challenge those who have been negative to try running their own event - I suspect it's not as easy as they might think and I seem to remember from last year the organisers virtually not sleeping for three days. Things happen, life happens and they have adjusted accordingly. Last year's guest list wasn't as large as planned but it was still entertaining from the first to the last minute and you couldn't complain in any way.

Over the last trio of years Wil and David have managed to book Star Trek authors James Swallow and Una McCormack, Voyager's Garrett Wang and Robert Picardo, Star Wars stormtrooper Alan Flyng, Deep Space Nine's J G Hertzler and Aron Eisenberg, Babylon 5's Claudia Christian and Bruce Boxleitner, Stargate's David Blue and Rainbow Sun Francks and Star Trek Phase II and friend of Gene Roddenberry, John Carrigan. But it's not just about the guests. FCD feels like a sci-fi family, the feeling of support and dedication to the organisers flows through every nuance of the weekend whatever happens. Y'know it's not 100% slick 100% of the time but that's some of it's charm and warmth. In a way it shouldn't be perfect and streamlined like some of the bigger events because this is 100% fan-made and has never lost that unique feeling along the way.

Once again this year promises to be huge with a great guest line up, talks and much more across the weekend. In fact, tonight will see the the first of the weekend's events and I wish I could be there but other matters have to take priority. I am really excited for FCD once again and look forward to another packed weekend. For me this has become the must-attend event of the year; hands down. 

Now we do know that this will be the last Out of the Ashes but will it be the end of FCD? I hope that this weekend closes that book and helps start a new chapter in the life of this event because I reckon the calendar would be a lot emptier without it.

So to all those involved with FCD this weekend, I salute you. You make one heck of a good event and here's to many more. See you there!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Simple Lines: The Official Starships Collection Issues 94 and 95

The latest offerings from Eaglemoss highlight two great traits of the designers from Star Trek; the ability to keep it simple and the brains to think outside the box - or several model boxes in this case. 

The Suliban Cell Ship in issue 94 comes from Enterprise and for once you're getting something incredibly basic from the prequel rather than one of the more intricate and finely detailed starships. 

Following in in the wake of the Borg Sphere (issue 10) and the Borg Tactical Cube (issue 58), the hexagonally shaped craft seems somewhere between a space skip and a large gaming dice with all the grace of a brick.  It's certainly as repetitively patterned as the two geometric Borg craft from previous issues but it's not a shade as exciting. The individual panel lines are well marked and very distinctive here but there's no real substance. 

Envisaged as a single occupant craft with some impressive technological capabilities, the Cell Ship might actually work best on display with another two or three formed into some sort of display with them interconnected to provide a vision of the Suliban helix being formed. The previews, even with their slight colour retouching and very forgiving lighting, didn't manage to make this look much more interesting and it does come across much better in the flesh. 

The colour - mainly due to John Eaves having some left over from Ghosts of Mars - isn't too far off the reds of the Vulcan fleet and gives it a used and worn feel emphasised with the "blotchy" effect finished off on the larger, square panels but isn't carried through into the smaller observation window sections which are placed at the corners.

Tragically these sections are left in the same colour as the rest of the ship meaning there is some definition and differentiation between features that is utterly lost with this one. Could have done with being translucent or a different colour at the least but I would think that fiddly angles and tight shapes have restricted the flexibilty to make that happen here. It just ends up being incredibly flat even with the best intents and purposes. The Borg Tactical Cube and the Sphere were different from a number of angles but whichever way you look at this one - and that's by design - it's identical. Clearly a decent bit of worksmanship to build but from a photographic and reviewing perspective this is hell on Earth. 

For note there are two points additionally worth calling out. Here both halves of the ship are plastic with the central connecting ring being metal. This is the only thing on the whole ship that defines exactly which way is "up". Secondly the stand fitting is a literal "drop on" this time and fits comfortably around one of the square panels.Could be a toppler though since there's no proper securing clip. Best stick her on a lower shelf although with no protrusions anywhere this might well be in the top three most durable models in the collection but unfortunately at the same time it's probably one of the most boring and simplistic to come out. 

The Suliban ship is an unavoidable entry into the series and I'm surprised it's taken until issue 95 to slot it in. Countering that though I'm not shocked because I can imagine the conversations over how to make something this basic more exciting must have been a nightmare. 

The cover pic on the magazine do the model a lot more justice because those transparent viewing ports are called out and there's a little more depth to the detail on the hull. The ship overview provides a potted history of the NX-01's encounters with the Suliban while covering off some of the key details of the boxy craft. The ship info is a bit sketchy with the magazine relying more on the stories to fill space this time. Had to laugh at the views of this one since they are all nigh on identical except when viewed from the top. Well played on space filling, Eaglemoss, well played.

For those of us who like to find out what went into making these ships come to life, there's a staggering eight pages dedicated to the designing of this cell ship. Yes, amazingly for a ship with such a basic, plain design there are eight pages handed over to discussing its creation and a ton of drawings that chart its development. While I can't say I'm it's number one fan, the originality factor here is top-notch with John Eaves steering away from a traditional hull and engines/wings design for something more unusual. It certainly works on the screen although in the flesh it's not as impressive!

Now the next one up has been long awaiting and hotly demanded by collectors. When the First Contact fleet was ticked off and completed there could only be one other way to go and that was to resurrect the classes featured in the Battle of Wolf 359.

A lot of those ships were seen only for a few seconds passing the Enterprise or drifting across her viewscreen but their inclusion in the show and the background of their creation is legendary in franchise circles. They were onscreen therefore they are canon. Period.

So the first of those graveyard ships comes out of the box and it's the New Orleans Class USS Kyushu NCC-65491. A blatant Galaxy Class kitbash, the Kyushu has the same distinct saucer and secondary hull shape as the Enterprise-D but that's where the similarities end as there are a significant number of modifications.

According to the stats the Kyushu is half the size of the Galaxy Class which, technically, means we get to see everything a little bit larger(!). The most immediate difference when comparing the two is the significantly smaller number of windows on the saucer. While the Enterprise-D has three rows between the lifeboat hatches and the outer edge, the Kyushu has just one. Impressively those windows are perfectly aligned with the saucer grooves as they should be but not, as collectors will know, as they always are. The larger scale will definitely be a help in ensuring this fine tuning and if this is an indication of the quality here it's going to be a great ship to review. Keep that in mind because when you flip her over the recessed windows on the underside are totally misaligned, sinking towards the centre of the saucer rather than sitting in their respective slots.

Moving back there's a single row of lifeboat hatches which circles the primary hull. Again larger than the Enterprise-D versions they are very pronounced against the flush saucer surface and draw your eye ever inwards to the dark grey phaser strip and then the massive ship registry. Sadly though the colour difference of hull versus lifeboats that we see on the magazine cover isn't carried across but at least you can make out their locations.

With such defined hull lines, the ship name and number do sit into the panel edges which at a couple of points has meant that the decal has split due to the slight variation in level. Nothing that a fine line marker won't sort I'm sure but it was a little disappointing. 

The increased surface detail on this Galaxy Class kitbash is at its best right at the centre of the primary hull and the bridge/shuttlebay complex. Here Eaglemoss have really gone to town with different surface structures and definitions which make it easy to navigate to the bridge dome and break up the smooth surface with some bobbly greebling. We also have the ship registry number planted firmly to the rear on the shuttlebay landing pad. Must be a tricky landing because...a tour of the primary hull of the New Orleans Class wouldn't be complete without noting the two distinctive dorsal pods.

Fans will know these are, in reality, two highlighter pens glued on and coloured but somehow they just, well, work. Not only do they create a very individual silhouette for the starship but clearly they have a very effective and highly scientific purpose as well...

Moving every rearwards the stubby cobra neck (again clearly halved in size from a kit of the Galaxy Class) opens out onto the oval secondary hull. Interestingly the New Orleans Class retains three impulse engines - two at the rear of the saucer and the third in the neck however there doesn't seem to be a need for it since there's no indication of a saucer sep feature.

The lower hull again has some very precise window alignment in play as well as some minor yellow venting detail evident at multiple points on the ship as a whole. The scale opens up the chance to get much clearer hull panel definition once again plus even the spine running along the back of the secondary hull has variations in the detail packed onto it. It also seem quite long with two phaser strips lying across the underside with a third "highlighter pen" ventral pod slotted between them and protruding down from the hull.

To the front is the eye-shaped deflector dish once more atypical of the larger Galaxy Class but here much easier to see with at least a bit of the edged/ribbed detail marked in for effect. Again comparing this to the "D" it does add more depth and realism to the model even though it's fairly well hidden under the saucer.

What isn't too evident is the subtle aztec paint scheme. Since issue one this has been refined, refined and refined more to the point now where the two shades are almost impossible to tell apart and the only way to really see it is to get the right lighting angle. I think this is a strong move that doesn't make the starships look too basic or toy-like and reflects the development of the series furthermore. Notably the scheme is fluid right across the metal saucer and down into the plastic secondary hull. There are a couple of very obvious join lines under the saucer but it moulds together nicely even around that fiddly neck section.

While I keep coming back to the Enterprise-D here, the construction of the pylons and warp engines have a very unique look. Sweeping back from the neck section rather than the rear of the secondary hull as in so many other cases, the wings actually end up placing the nacelles in exactly the same place if they were hung from the back of the hull. On both sets of wings you'll find the ship registry which is a tiny but cool touch as is the panelling detail which covers their whole length. While these could have been forgotten they carry on the two-tone aztec colour scheme but in a more blocked out form. Very nice to see this distinction in such a small part.

It's a striking design feature with the engines actually appearing slim and long emphasised by the twin sets of (what I can best describe as) vertical holes. The engines do feature the usual translucent bussard collectors and blue warp coils as well as the fine finishing details of the Starfleet pennant. Only grumble here is that one of my engines is a little bit gappy at the front end. A slight fitting issue but nothing that affects the build of the vessel.

The Kyushu is a cracking little ship to display. Aside from the larger decals and markings, the small finishing touches around the ends of the phaser banks and the markings behind the saucer impulse engines add a touch of flair to the result. It is certainly not bland and counters the disappointing (but necessary) Suliban ship it accompanies for subscribers.

Over in the pages of the magazine and the CG shots are just magnificent showing off the best angles of the New Orleans Class. Noting the stats for the stumpy kitbash, the opening Ship Profile also reminds readers that the class was "featured" in Conspiracy as well as it's more famous appearance in the wreckage at Wolf 359.

We do get to see the ship both in pristine condition thanks to an efficient Rich Sternbach taking some "before" shots plus we have the "after" pics as the class took to the screen for its fleeting appearance. I did note that the aztec scheme seems a lot stronger on the page than it does on the model while in contrast the bright blue of the pod ends is totally against what we have in the magazine at every angle and on every reference photo.

Unsurprisingly the issue is rounded out with a huge article on the writing of The Best of Both Worlds. I mean, how could it not be? The real tragedy here is that Michael Piller is no longer with us, robbing fans of his current take on the classic two-parter which cemented The Next Generation as a hit and a show no longer overshadowed by its 1960's predecessor.

Again there's a real big gap between the two issues this month. On the one hand we have the essential Suliban Cell Ship which, while super-bland has to be included and is, for all intents and purposes, a well-finished and nicely It will however always play lesser fiddle this month to the USS Kyushu. It may only be a screen filler for a second but its reputation and very existence as a Federation starship are sure to drive fans wild. It's this month's clear winner because of the detail and maybe solely because it's rare to get this close to such a cracking kitbash. 

Slight niggle mind that there are a few cartoony features on the Kyushu which make it look a little odd and therefore the Cell Ship the more screen accurate but a good Federation replica will always pull at the heart strings more. Remember we still have the Springfield, Cheyenne and Challenger classes to make an appearance over the next 18 months if the leaked list is to be believed.

Little bit of news too is that has now been updated with the Phase II USS Enterprise (as above). I'm over-excited for this one. It's a fine piece of lost Star Trek history and an essential. A critical essential to any collection. Check out the views of this stunner and try and resist buying when it's released...!

Next month we have another remastered starship, this time with the Orions making an appearance in their ship from The Original Series' Journey to Babel and then it's the upgraded Nova Class USS Rhode Island featured in the Voyager finale Endgame

Looking forward to the other Wolf 359 ships or is this the best of the lot?

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