Thursday, 17 January 2019

Rounding Up: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 36 - 39

It only seems like a matter of days ago that we were talking about Khan: Ruling in Hell and here we are with our second bite of the Noonien Singh cherry with the monosyllabic Khan.

If you're following along you'll spot immediately that this edition is sporting the ever-so-British chin of one Benedict Cumberbatch and therefore is going to be set in the Kelvin Timeline. Before you grimace, complaint and throw things remember - the Kelvin Timeline issues actually tend to be the better presented, thought out and generally more smoothly executed outings for Star Trek. The art work from Claudia Balboni, David Messina, Marina Castelvetro, Luca Lamberti and Giorgia Sposito is as good as ever and I always rate a graphic novel by the ease at which I can follow the natural flow of the dialogue and here it's seamless.  What makes this parallels apart from the Khan: Ruling in Hell series is that Kelvin twist. 

Mike Johnson and Roberto Orci's story takes us back to the very origins of Khan (which would be unaltered as they occur before the Narada incident) in the 1970's through to his rise to power in the 1990's. As Orci was instrumental in the writing of Into Darkness it makes sense that he would be involved with the scripting of this origins story - and that it should therefore be considered as Kelvin canon. One of the criticisms of Into Darkness was that Khan did not appear to be of Indian descent and here we have the explanation however unnatural it seems. Khan explores a totally different window onto the character as he "works" for Admiral Harris and the development of the Vengeance and those 72 prototype torpedoes that would come into play in the second reboot movie. I sped through this one. It's incredibly immersive and a great story whether or not you're a fan of the reboot movie series. 

Khan truly unites the movies, brings in relevant backstory material and clears up a lot of issues that fans had raised around the mixed Into Darkness. Certainly watching it now after reading this gives me a new outlook on the plot. 

Issue 37 takes us aboard Deep Space Nine in Stowaway. A real mix of visual styles and story lengths in here that made it a little bizarre at times yet there's a real quality to the production and definite love for the show. Pitched in the first four years of the TV series, Stowaway is just one of the tales contained in this set which runs sequentially through the Malibu Comics releases from the 1990's. The Lurene Haines-painted Hostage Situation is a real departure from the artwork of the Deep Space Nine series and probably the graphic novels as a whole and feels a little disorganised. It's not that great a starting story either focusing on a simple incident involving some Klingon arrivals to the station.

Fortunately it's short and then we get into what I think are the better illustrated two-part Stowaway, Old Wounds and Emancipation Parts One and Two which close the book. These are much more in keeping with the theme and tone of Deep Space Nine. Stowaway does have slight similarities to The Alternate with a creature moving through the station but here it's not Odo - although didn't we have something not too dissimilar in the Lwaxana Troi story a few volumes ago? More than likely but there is a darker tone in this one thanks to the inclusion of a visiting starship captain which lifts the story. Fortunately this two-parter acts to build up to the better stories at the rear. Old Wounds does what Deep Space Nine did exceptionally by placing the Cardassians against Kira in a personal conflict. 

You can see the echoes of Necessary Evil bold as brass in this story and there are some canonical errors due to the later (and at the time of publishing not yet made) Things Past however you can see the writers have really embraced the shadowy past of Terek Nor rather than treading down an alien of the week path. It also illustrates the more continuous and evolving nature of Deep Space Nine due to its constant position by the wormhole. In fact the comics seem to have picked up on that (a bit) just before the show did with the Dominion. 

Emancipation offers up an escaped slaves versus their masters story and with some elaborate makeup, ships and events within the story you can see how the page is a better canvas than the TV as this would have made quite an expensive episode. It's a good read if at times a little too sedate for my liking although there is some fantastic artwork to laud over throughout the pages. It's a far cry from the initial sketchiness of Hostage Situation.

Voyager; Volume Two (should be?) gets renamed as Dead Zone and as with the Deep Space Nine tome, it's a compendium of several stories combined together from the comic run (which do actually link through) and brings in everyone including Kes and later Seven of Nine. The opening Dead Zone story will certainly trigger memories seeing as it almost carbon copies The Animated Series' The Time Trap and in turn Voyager's own The Void which both deal with an area of space which is seemingly inescapable. Here that scenario is once more with more extravagant aliens and an actual on-board battle between the Voyager crew and the rest of those trapped in the zone. Everything really kicks off in Ghosts which has Voyager encountering a temporal flashback to Wolf 359 and allows them to meet with crew from some of the doomed starships. 

When you're reading Dead Zone it seems like the story isn't going anywhere but the events do twist together to form the beginnings of the second tale. Hat tip to you dear writers. Ghosts is actually top notch since it ties in the past of the franchise and at the same time manages to do some deep delving into actual characterisation. I know, shocker. Plus there's the high concept of that temporal incursion which does, tragically, have to also be the big reset button for the story. Now that's a huge shame as I thought this could have gone somewhere but it can't interfere with TV hence everything that's outstanding has to be neatly tied up. Leviathan sees Voyager searching for a missing vessel which sees the Starfleet ship captured and almost assimilated by a huge craft/creature. I've got to say that the scope of these Voyager stories is just what I would have wanted from the show (with a bit more Maquis conflict perhaps) as it's all very high concept. 

Possibly all these stories would have been over-budget for the small screen but it explodes with potential on every page whether its proto-Jem'Hadar or Voyager being encased by the hull of the Leviathan. The vision in here from Jesus Redondo is spectacular. It's certainly more sketched in style than the clean cut lines of the more recent Kelvin Timeline stories yet these seem incredibly vivid and alive with steady plot development which is taking place not just across the single tale itself but also across the volume. Why say that? Because the Elessians they were helping in Leviathan are the next destination for the crew in Cloud Walkers wherein Janeway and co are embroiled in a pirating scandal involving some super-extravagant creatures in land and sea. Another out-of-the-box adventure here but not the best in the volume. 

Notably though it does finish with a link into Scorpion and Kes' visions before continuing in Survival of the Fittest which takes place after the fourth season opener/cliffhanger resolution. This two parter is a bit...meh. Retreading Psiren-esque stories which would later be touched on with the Orions in Enterprise, the crew are put under the spell of the Orsorians (who aren't what they seem). It's a tad risque visually but we do have the ship gradually taken over with even the usually unemotional Tuvok being compromised. Coming to the rescue as would be the norm for the later seasons of the show are the Doctor and Seven who remain unaffected by the hormonal powers of the Orsorians. It's a straight-forward take-over story that Voyager did a couple of times with the Kazon, nearly with the Vidiians, the Hirogen...I mean there were a lot of races that wanted to get their hands on the Starfleet vessel and this is another spin on that theme. 

Graphically it's another great looking story with quality vistas and some nice detail on the ship itself. Cleverly one stylistic choice which does run through the whole collection is the use of the rank pins and division colour to border "off screen" dialogue spoken by the crew. It looks cool and for fans it's another easy to follow tool which means that the story can avoid unnecessary panels.

Finally for this batch of four we have the third and final part of the Marvel Comics series. More in tune with the bizarre exploits of the now infamous Gold Key stories, the Marvel Comics adventures spin out of The Motion Picture with Kirk taken over by the spirit of a space Egyptian and the admiral and his senior staff disguising themselves to infiltrate an alien race. It's back into the realms of utter fantasy and boys own action that steps firmly outside the concept of the Star Trek mould. Not that thinking outside the box is bad but this doesn't make it very Star Trek in its roots.

Graphically it’s very, very sketchy and perhaps even less accurate than those Gold Key tales. The Enterprise especially gets a bum deal looking different in almost every frame and it’s all those visual inaccuracies that plummet these additions to the bottom of my list when it comes to the Graphic Novel Collection. 

Time has not been kind to this era and while it might have been the only way to get hold of some form of continuing Star Trek it’s bordering on painful at times. I do reckon though that with some better visuals the stories themselves would probably hold up a little better and not be seen as such pulp narratives. 

There are lots of cool things about the Marvel stories - they 100% go beyond anything that could be seen on TV or even in the cinema but the action content is still gripped in the 1950's serial style and the real heart of Star Trek is missing leaving the adventures feeling as though they could be transplanted into any other sci-fi franchise and we wouldn't be able to tell where they originally came from. 

Perhaps this is the benefit of seeing what's been produced since these late 70's adventures and also because of the little Star Trek that existed when these stories were written. Indeed, the Motion Picture isn't the best source for reference material on the characters and that shines through strongly in the very basic characterisation that echoes off every page here. If only Marvel had waited until after The Wrath of Khan - but by that point DC had a firm grip and that's another story for another time don't y'think?

Catch up with the Graphic Novel Reviews HERE

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