Thursday, 7 December 2017

Visual Varieties with the Graphic Novel Collection; Issues 16 to 19

The latest run of graphic novels from the Eaglemoss collection series has taken us into the wonders of The Next Generation with issue 16.

Ghosts is another fantastic read and the more I see of the 2000’s artwork and stories the more I kick myself rather strongly that I failed to get any of these the first time around. Damn these are great stories and so superlatively drawn by Javier Aranada. 

As with the previous offering, Intelligence Gathering, the narrative is split into five distinctive stories which all, initially, seem to be unrelated. By the final part it all weaves together seamlessly - of course. 

The big win here is just how amazing this series looks. The pencil work is crisp, the colours particularly striking and the attention to canon detail shows that the producers of the series have been keen to take note of the material they are honouring with these continuing voyages. 

The story itself is well paced although I did find that the big question that exists from the very start is fairly obvious by about half the way through. It didn’t ruin Ghosts for me but this kind of story has sort of been tackled in a similar way as far back as the first season of The Original Series and definitely in one of my favourite episodes of that show ever. Placing it into a distinctly alien and segregated world plays well for the story but it did also feel like we were treading very familiar paths - two opposing factions on a planet at the brink of war, disappearances.... it was a tad on the cliched side but it is rescued by the gorgeous look of each and every frame. 

Stepping towards the character angle the two sides in this conflict/perpetual standoff are at times difficult to distinguish between since they are - maybe intentionally - more similar than they might admit. It did mean the occasional pause just to reassure myself where I was in the big picture and maybe it would have been worth leaving a more bitter-sweet ending here rather than tying everything up so well.

Heading up issue 17 is Mirrored. Easily now my most anticipated entries into the graphic novel collection, the continuing voyages of the Kelvin timeline look just as good as they read and I might be tempting fate to say they are better than the three movies we’ve had to date.

Taking classic stories and giving them a new twist or simply exploring a new adventure, these stories from the rebooted Star Trek universe are fresh, colourful and original even when you suspect they might not be. This volume actually comprises of four tales from the alternative universe; A Redshirt's Tale, Keenser’s Story, Mirrored and Bones. The first is a rather singular version of Lower Decks focusing on the everyday events in the Iife of ‘Cupcake’ security officer Hendorff as seen in the 2009 and Into Darkness movies. A cool story recounting some of the missions we experienced but from the perspective of one of the more - disposable - members of the USS Enterprise crew. It was quite heartwarming seeing the thoughts of a junior officer in regards to the senior staff and just what hes expected to do during an ‘average’ day.

Keenser’s Story on the other hand is more an origins tale explaining his choice to leave home, to join Starfleet and end up on the icy wastelands of Delta Vega with Scotty. Having him narrate the tale does take away some of the mystery of the pint-sized alien. The story does well to cover where this alien came from but I did feel it took more away than it gave. Keenser is well written yet adding his background to the overall ethos seems superfluous. Keenser is a nice foil for Scotty but we don't need to fill out his past. 

Even if its not a necessity, I cant get enough of the fantastic artwork produced by xxx in this volume nor can I complain about the writing. Everything gels together so majestically its infuriating that the Kelvin universe gets such a good deal. Next up and the real keystone of the volume is Mirrored. Being the title story gives you a hint that this is a corker and its exactly that. Offering an alternative to the alternative timeline, a suitably goateed Spock is the tip of the iceberg with the two Johnson's providing a twist on the first Kelvin movie where Kirk is more brutal than a short-lived Nero. The changes to the timeline are even more drastic with Prime Spock even arriving just as he did in the movie but to a very different universe than he was ever expecting.

The changes here are subtle to the plot but fairly major to the characters and the writing team of Mike Johnson and F Leonard Johnson have etched just the right level of darkness into the crew to still make them recognisable and yet remain a little familiar through some of their ways. Even the usually bright and in your face artwork that comes out of most of the Kelvin stories is noticeably toned down with a lot more blacks, greys and darker shades to parallel the narrative. 

These homage stories might not get the approval of all fans because they could be seen to be ‘ripping off’ the original material but the Kelvin nuances do make you consider the what if... factor just a little more.

Following on we have the superlative Early Voyages. As I’m writing that I’m actually thinking this might be my more anticipated collection just slightly pipping the Kelvin universe. The tales of the Enterprise before Kirk and under the command of one Christopher Pike are thoroughly original and enthralling. Volume one took us right up to and into The Cage with the later pages coming from the perspective of Yeoman Colt rather than the captain and here we push forward beyond that point with more tales from the past.

What volume two does is, for want of a better cliche, build on the brilliance of volume one and takes the nuances and how hints laid out in the stories there to create more vivid representations of these crew members. Remember, we really only saw these people once in The Cage/flashback video in The Menagerie so Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett have a very clean slate from which to start their stories.
Focusing on Pike and then later Doctor Boyce we initially get a great understanding of what made the Enterprise’s second captain tick and the kind of man he really was with a closer examination of his family life back on Earth. The relationship between Pike and his father is well written with a clear underlying love but there are some challenges brewing on the surface. I really bought into this pairing even for the brief time we were allowed into that situation. 

Boyce’s story is far  more bleak than that of his commanding officer with a literal inner voice wreaking havoc on the doctor’s sanity. A standard possession story that has evolved over a long period of time and was bubbling under in the first collection, this racing story pays off well if perhaps earlier than expected. 

Rounding out our selection for this time is the Marvel Comics Volume 2. Keeping in line with the first volume thses stories are just the right side of sanity that the Gold Key stories tend to skip roght past and disappear into the distance. At the core of the stories the writers here actually understood their source material with some sort of logic. 

The main cast are there in the right uniforms and doing, roughly the right things although their rather extreme and over regular of getting EVERYWHERE by warp even in close quarters battle situations is confusing and then some. The stories clearly have origins in genuine sci-fi lore with the basis in The Motion Picture. They are more outlandish with dragons appearing, mad aliens and humans versus machine tales that, at their heart wouldn’t have been too far removed from some of the more hokey plot twists from The Original Series.

Given the tight framing and maximum page/frame use, we get a load of stories here; The Expansionist Syndrome, Experiment in Vengeance which pits the crew against a classic cosmic cloud style alien; Domain of the Dragon God that has Kirk and the crew tussling with an Aztec-like people and forgoing the Prime Directive as only they could. Like a Woman Scorned unusually tackles an element of Scotty's past which inevitably turns out to be deadly for the Enterprise; Eclipse of Reason almost echoes the earlier Experiment in Vengeance with the Enterprise under attack again from a sister ship but this time it's being controlled by the bodiless Phaetons. Finally All the Infinite Ways is the real gem in this collection bringing back The Motion Picture's version of the Klingons and introducing McCoy's daughter Joanna. It's a damn fine story and a bit of a shame it's hidden away right in the middle of this issue.

Visually they are very crowded and cluttered stories to follow both visually and narratively. The choice of colour palette plus the printing method do make the images sketchy and scrappy that also shows the age of these tales. I remember my comics looking not too dissimilar in the mid-80's and these were only a few years before i took to this kind of literature.

Their more fantastical elements do take them a way away from the natural flow of Star Trek and the genuine feel of The Original Series. It is Star Trek visually in a clearly stronger way than Gold Key even came close to yet it seems as equally far away because of the narrative choices yet I do enjoy them more than the pulp comic style of the technically far inaccurate older work from the early ‘70s.

Talking of Gold Key as I always love to do, these four issues once again come with the back end being made up of the 1970's comic capers. In order we have The Enterprise Mutiny, Museum at the End of Time, Day of the Inquisitors and - but missing three pages due to a printing error - The Cosmic Cavemen

Still firmly entrenched in the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon adventure mould, these have just about the shape of the Enterprise right before spiralling into murderous monsters, fantastic machines and just a hint of Star Trek sprinkled in the name and the use of the characters be it in the wrong uniforms and almost unrecognisable save for Spock's ears.

I admit these are enjoyable and completist but having them in every issue is a bit of a drag especially when you've made your way through the very intense and claustrophobic narrative frames of the Marvel Comics your eyes don't get a rest. When coupled with the Kelvin universe or The Next Generation the variety is welcome and different but having two very similar styles so close does overload you a bit.

Fortunately there is the chance of a small break in each of the volumes because Eaglemoss/IDW have included pencil frames, sketches, artwork and edited clips from the stories into a separate section with some amazing stuff to see. The material for Ghosts in particular is outstanding with promo artwork and black and white frames among the panels included.

There are some classic hidden gems stuck amongst these four volumes and you do need to pick through to find them which can be a ball-ache. For my pick here I'd take Early Voyages and probably the slightly bizarre choice of the Marvel comics if only for the top notch All the Infinite Ways.

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