Friday, 6 July 2018

Rounding Up: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 32 - 35

Another four superb slices of graphical Trek for you to peruse now with our next roundup of Eaglemoss' Official Graphic Novel Collection.

This time we’re graced with a double helping of The Next Generation plus a trip back to The Original Series crew and finishing off with a voyage to the edge of the frontier on Deep Space Nine.

So let’s kick off this selection with Return to Raimon. Picking up from Beginnings, this volume takes us into the second and early third year of The Next Generation as seen on TV in a batch of three stories. Written by Star Trek novelist Michael Jan Friedman, the stylised Pablo Marcos pencil work is back once more giving all the male characters the perfect physique. Indeed the cover artwork for this volume is based on promo shots for season two and bears little resemblance to the content of the volume. 

Return to Raimon is predominantly a Picard story, revisiting a world he travelled to while in command of the Stargazer and tying more in with season one than any other year of the show. Following this up we have The Derelict in which Guinan makes her first appearance and the crew encounter a starship with a deadly cargo of creatures. 

So-so storytelling and again not a tale constricted by the budget of a 45 minute TV show with larger than life beasts plus Friedman's own Starfleet creation, Mr McRobb with whom he can do as he pleases without worrying about having to relate effects from or to the show.

The printed page allows for much more elaborate characters to be portrayed during this adventure and steps out into a much more bright and fantastical world than we saw in the latter five years of The Next Generation but do take note of Picard on horseback (something we did see on the show) and also Geordi experiencing further issues in building a romantic relationship and some conflict is even thrown in between him and Deanna - something of which Roddenberry would not have approved. 

The Next Generation: Perchance to Dream is grandiose in scale with visuals to die for from start to finish. It looks glossy, well designed, get the picture but the problem here is that the story is incredibly mundane. The Enterprise turns up at a planet inhabited by an androgynous race where factions have begun to develop, foil an assassination plot and Bob's your uncle. 

It's a fairly basic story to follow but because of how this one looks on the page it's wonderful just to enjoy the feast for the eyes rather than the plodding plot and rather tedious characters. Unusually this is from the pen of Keith DeCandido who has also read a number of Star Trek novels in his time and those have been much more substantial in their depth of character and plot. Perhaps this format isn't quite DeCandido's forte down to the constraints on the length of the comic but to date this is my least favourite of the collection because it felt quite superfluous.

Perchance to Dream is in a way very similar to Return to Raimon in that it pushes out beyond a TV budget but seems to lack the heart and substance that make Star Trek great. There's no deeper meaning, no subtle agenda rather strong action and, as you might expect, even stronger visuals.

The Newspaper Strips: Volume Three might not be in the glorious technicolour of Perchance to Dream but it's easily redeemed by the meticulous work of the group of creators responsible for this slice of '80's paginated Trek. Shorter, sharper, better paced and for the most part in black and white, these tales recount the "lost" (if you will) adventures of the Enterprise set in a time-frame after The Motion Picture and before The Wrath of Khan

Sadly this is the last volume of the strips which ran for "four years and a day" but the quality is there right to the end. Considering this was produced in snapshot strip form, the representations of the crew and the ship are superb and mark an upward turn in the attention to accuracy that was lacking from the UK Comic Series and from the infamous Gold Key series that rumbles on in the background of the collection (but not this volume!). Halfway, the strips do flip into the visual look of Star Trek II with the monster maroon uniforms. Setting it before the sequel movie means that they retained the use of Spock for a little while at least. 

Some of the stories are a bit hokey but there’s still the return of the Kzinti from The Animated Series to enjoy and a flourish of other stories with a somewhat imaginary flair to them including cloned code couriers leading to Scotty charged with murder (again), pesky merchant transports and Spock apparently dead - like that would happen....

Perhaps the most intriguing story here is the final one which overturns any sense of the series as "real" in its 23rd Century with the crew returned to the 20th Century where they are actors in a show called Star Trek. It's rather cutting idea and one of the few times where the fourth wall has been shattered. From memory we've seen it taken down at the end of Journey to Babel and in the recent Autobiography of James T Kirk by David A Goodman, Star Trek V was viewed as a movie on an alien world rather than part of franchise canon.

Thing is, they just look so damn good (at least up to the later pages where it goes a bit dark) that you can forgive some of the more batshit crazy concepts because of the love and care that has gone into recreating the original cast. The recreation of the uniforms, the ships and the sets is just gorgeous and the feel of the franchise is there all the way. 

Anytime there’s a Deep Space Nine title I get overexcited and Risk is just another reason for me to be over enthusiastic about an issue of the Graphic Novel Collection. Collecting four stories together in one volume, this one covers stories from the middle years of the show and it doesn't disappoint in any way at all, ever. 

Stretching the already inventive space station drama, Risk has it all commencing with the crew of the Defiant wrestling with a spacial anomaly that leads to Sisko going on trial and very nearly ending up executed. O’Brien also plays a prominent part here involved with locating a lost alien scientist somewhere through the rift.

Also in this volume is the two part Public Enemies Private Lives returning Sub-Commander Tomalok from The Next Generation to the franchise albeit a different branch. Stepping into events post-Rapture with the grey/black movie uniforms, the story focuses more on Jake and you can see learnings taken directly from the show especially Nor the Battle to the Strong from season five and also there's more than a hint of inspiration from The Next Generation’s third season The Enemy. Odd choice too to bring back the Maquis to,the Deep Space Nine arm of Star Trek however they did pop up late in the fifth season so it might be a but of intentional arcing.

Last up there's Lwaxana Troi and the Wedding of Doom/Four Funerals and a Wedding. As one who only finds Fascination watchable for Deanna’s mother, it was refreshing to read her rather than see her on the screen. Majel Barrett was a great actress in the franchise but I found Lwaxana (probably intentionally) grating and the comedy aspect - as with much of the attempted comedy in Trek - barely bearable.

This story isnt too bad to be fair although there are points where it does feel a little sexed up and almost raunchy in its nature. While out of character for a family friendly TV audience it does indicate that the graphic novels, comics or whatever you choose to call them wanted to strike out a bit more riskily than they had taken the chance to before.

Anyway, this is another well presented tale from the Bajoran sector, beautifully crafted and created for the page. Well, it certainly more than makes up for the appearance of Lwaxana and a middling size problem for the station which (spoiler?!) Mrs Troi deals with. Cudos this time for pulling in the threads of her previous visit to the station and her marriage to Odo which at least means that the writers had a fair idea of the show when they were putting the story together.

In each of the volumes, with the exception of The Newspaper Strips Volume Three, you'll also find a much shorter but twice the entertainment value copy of a Gold Key story. Now, with these three editions containing the stories Ice Journey, The Mimicking Menace and Death of a Star, I have to continue to admit that the quality is improving. The stories are still all sorts of bizarre and that never changes but you can see a more gradual awareness of what the characters should look like rather than the 1950's serial stereotypes that were evident back in the first few issues. Now the colours of the uniforms are nearer to the TV versions (bar red for some weird reason) and the crew are significantly more recognisable. Well, at least physically because Gold Key just can't seem to apply the character traits from the show into the rather robotic serialised version of the Enterprise crew. 

Of all of these four releases I'd be stuffed to pick a favourite but the all-out fun factor of the collected newspaper strips may just pip Risk for the best one. While the Deep Space Nine entry has a good heritage, provides a great visual spectacle and is excellently written, it's the what-if factor and the stronger reliance on the black and white drawings that make this a more interesting snapshot from the annals of Trekdom. 

Collecting? Selective Picking? What have been the highlights this time?

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