Thursday, 20 July 2017

Worlds in Motion Picture: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 12 - 15

After our mass review last time of the four issues I'd managed to get all in one go it's the same again this month.

Starting out we have The Edge of the Galaxy, an original story set after the events of the 2009 Kelvin timeline movie. Now here's the twist, these are actually reworkings/reboots/rewritings of some of The Original Series' first season stories, specifically Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Galileo Seven and Operation: Annihilate!

I can hear the groans now but you're actually wrong to judge that early since not everything is as crystal clear as you might immediately expect. Rather than just being a case of inking in Chris Pine where Shatner once stepped, the writers of these graphic tales have gone back to the originals and retold the tales with a Kelvin spin. Not everything is cut and dry - as with the movie, the characters are all there but there are not necessarily the same outcomes that we experienced in The Original Series. For starters, Doctor Dehner isn't even aboard the Enterprise leaving Gary Mitchell alone as the sole protagonist here. His likeness is based on Gary Lockwood who played the character in the second pilot but as for similarities that's as far as it goes. 

Have to admit I raised a smile when they commented on the "other" Delta Vega since one was used as Spock's prison in the 2009 film. Indeed you'll spot lots of parallels to the original as you read through the story but it's a compelling narrative and waiting for the changes makes it even more exciting. The same goes for The Galileo Seven which has a huge spin in it towards the end due to the relationship between Spock and Uhura. Pushing through to Operation: Annihilate! and the alterations to the timeline thanks to the Narada are even more evident from the appearance of a very much alive Sam Kirk.

These stories have their characterisation of the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise crew down to a tee. Kirk is particularly bang on with a slight swagger and cockiness replicated right on the page. So too is McCoy amazingly well represented by the graphic novel. Getting the likeness is one thing but managing to instill the essence of the role is key and in The Edge of the Galaxy we have that in spades. I love the way in which the writers have chosen to twist these classic stories in new ways for the Kelvin generation and there's more of that coming in Vulcan Vengeance so bear with...

Let's turn to the Marvel Comics, Volume One. Created in the late 1970's, this series takes place in the era of The Motion Picture so expect a lot of beige. The first stories in here are the graphic novel version of the first film. 

It's a close reproduction of the story but luckily doesn't take half as long to read as to watch. The other neat thing is that there are a few scenes missing from the movie which appear in here including the sequence of Kirk going after Spock within V'Ger. 

The artwork here is much rougher and the likenesses to the actors from The Original Series are further out than you may want but the core of The Motion Picture story definitely asserts itself and there's no mistaking this as Star Trek. The colouring too is a little sloppy in places throughout the stories included in this volume but, y'know, different times, so you can't really make too much of a comment but coming after the crisp lines and vibrancy of The Edge of the Galaxy it's quite a culture shock.

That of course is the brilliance of the Graphic Novel Collection in that we get all these different periods of Star Trek comic history rubbing shoulders with each other in a matter of pages (yes, and I will happily include Gold Key in that bracket). 

What is appreciated with The Motion Picture story here is that the longer, visual effects pieces that dominated the big screen return of the franchise are slimmed to a few frames and don't detract from the pace of the narrative. We brush through the unveiling of the Enterprise in a page, we're inside V'Ger in about four; it makes a huge difference.

Once you're through this, we have Marvel's interpretation of "what could have been" to some extent in regards to Phase II. That series never reached the air but in these pages we get a ride into that never-explored territory. Now knowing what the first series scripts might have looked like thanks to the brilliant Phase II: The Lost Series book, these are somewhat far fetched and almost stepping into the equally crazy realms of the fabled Gold Key archive.

The Haunting of Thallus story for instance would fit right in although this tale does manage to pull in a ton of Klingons and at least try and weave in some form of established canon. However, it's still far outside the remit of what I would expect from Star Trek. There might be some exploration in here but the leaning towards the fantastical does seem a bit of a sell out and I honestly don't think it would be a concept that would have even made it to a writers room. These stories do ensue a sense of indulgence and while visually they are in line with the vision of The Motion Picture and do portray the cast with a degree of accuracy, there doesn't appear to be too much substance to the narratives.

We also have The Enterprise Murder Case and Tomorrow Or Yesterday - two single part stories that nicely fill out the volume but are fairly instantly forgettable. Nice inclusion of some of Kirk's backstory with the appearance of the chunky USS Republic within these pages but aside from that they are typical comic fayre.

What also works for the collection is the inclusion of artwork for The Motion Picture film poster plus additional cover art for the editions of the Marvel Comics included in this volume. I'm a bit embarrassed I've not mentioned this with other volumes as they are some of the great hidden gems that are getting a nice bit of additional exposure - I'd take a closer look in the specials too because they seem to have taken this section a whole step further particularly with The Planet of the Apes crossover.

Issue 14 pulls back some respect for the graphic novel medium in regards to Star Trek with another sojourn into the Kelvin Timeline. Another three stories fill out the majority of the edition with new twists on the Romulans in Vulcan's Vengeance, a reworking of Return of the Archons and a new Tribbles story.

Vulcan's Vengeance is a fantastic read and combination of stories and I ripped through these in a very short period of time. I'm fast becoming a huge advocate of the IDW material especially their work with the new Kelvin Timeline which has removed some of the restrictions of 700+ episode continuity and offered a blank canvas on a plate. 

It makes sense that episodes the crew of the Prime Timeline faced would surface here but the writers have l, as with The Edge of the Galaxy tales, managed to keep them fresh and exciting from start to finish. The Balance of Terror remake/total makeover takes the destruction of Vulcan into account and reaffirms the new mentality of the quadrant around the refugees and their offshoot cousins. Vulcan's Vengeance is a dark, grim story that delivers the unexpected from very early on and keeps you guessing to the end.

The Return of the Archons goes along the lines of the three stories from The Edge of the Galaxy and is a strict remapping of the episode from The Original Series.  Now I didn't think it possible but this is an improvement on the classic story. After all, The Return of the Archons isn't one of the strongest episodes and some of the alterations make it much more feasible and align with the Kelvin Timeline more reasonably. I'm rapidly becoming a big fan of Mike Johnson's writing as everything I've seen from his pen so far has been excellent. In fact the Kelvin installments have been the stronger and more driven stories up to this point (maybe with the exception of Early Voyages). The attention to detail, JJ-canon and arcing plotlines is fantastic and fills in more than the films ever will. His portrayal of the crew is very endearing, retaining key elements of the originals personalities while still managing to encompass the updating from Pine et al.

What you come to appreciate with this and with the final story of the three is that there are sprinklings of ideas and threads that will be picked up (or were retconned in here) to bridge the gap from the 2009 movie through to Into Darkness. I won't blab them out here but you'll spot a few of them straight away and I'm predicting that on two or three more revisits I'll spot a few more nods to the first of the two reboot films. 

The Truth About Tribbles story is, frankly, excellent. 

A completely new tale about the rapidly multiplying furballs that take the reader to their homeworld, sort of explains why they have to reproduce so quickly and adds in a few severely irritated Klingons to max out the story.  It actually adds some depth to their background that we've never been privvy to before. There is the expected element of humour in here that could only come from a Tribbles story but this is actually quite dark for something that we know to be one of Star Trek's lighter moments. It also manages to handle two strands of story at the same time under the Tribble umbrella if you will while also setting up a certain controversial blip from Into Darkness.

The parallels back to The Trouble with Tribbles and Trials and Tribble-ations are nicely done and we can see here the Klingon plan to eradicate the "menace" as it was. Wonderful read, fantastically illustrated right the way through. For reference the three Gold Key archive stories included with 12, 13 and 14 respectively are The Brain Shockers, The Flight of the Bucanneer - with the crew bizarrely undercover as space pirates replete with cutlasses, stripey jumpers and eyepatches and lastly The Dark Traveller where in the Enterprise encounters a cross between Q and a space wizard. All a bit weird but nothing I haven't come to expect from these pulp comic stories. Whatever next...

Finally in Volume 15 we come back to the Star Trek universe as it was seen in the late 70's and early 80's after the arrival of The Motion Picture with The Newspaper Strips Volume One.

Now as with the abysmally bound The Classic UK Comics, Part One, this doesn't have the additional Gold Key story as it's rammed full of short stories based around that period of Star Trek history. We have new aliens, Klingons, the odd appearance from a classic Constitution Class starship, starbases and above all, some very impressive artwork that captures the pastels of the first movie absolutely perfectly. It's a lot less hurried and scrawled than the Marvel Comics from Volume 13 with better definition of the physical features of the crew plus some better renderings of the Klingon and Federation ships. To some degree the writing is more Star Trek centric being much less Flash Gordon/50's sci-fi off the wall and more grounded tales that have a more technical aspect to them and seem to tread more along the lines of canon. Hell, they even make reference to the Perscan belt units at one point which almost made me have an aneurysm.

Honestly these are a great read and easier to dip in and out of since half the stories aren't lost down the spine. The larger frames and cut back dialogue does work better than the squashed in text of those Marvel Comic tales and overall this is a much cleaner interpretation of Star Trek on the page than those in Volume 13. The tragedy is that these newspaper strips have been "lost" for a while since they weren't mass distributed and really need to be appreciated.

With it being a longer volume these shorter stories with their cliffhanger points every couple of pages make it very easy to digest. Frankly I just loved these with their clear affection for the core material and their presentation here is wonderfully done. These four issues offer a good range of storytelling from across the graphic eras of Star Trek. Great selection and variety.

Next month we have The Next Generation's Ghosts and another from the Kelvin Timeline with Mirrored.

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