Monday, 28 January 2019

No Clear Winner: USS Kobayashi Maru - The Official Starships Collection Special Edition

A special issue of a ship that appears for even less time than the reboot Klingon Battlecruiser.

Yes, honestly the 2nd Class Neutronic Fuel Carrier formerly of The Wrath of Khan plus quoted about more times than I've had hot dinners was never physically seen in 1982 but when JJ got his hands on the franchise we were privy to few fleeting seconds of footage inside the simulator that finally put a "face" to the name.

The craft we have from Eaglemoss this time is actually not screen accurate but rather what the finished ship would have looked like if it had been fully realised beyond those snatched glimpses on a viewscreen at the back of the scene and I've got to say, it's not a bad shout.

Bearing one of the thinnest profiles of any ship in the collection...ever, the USS Kobayashi Maru is a hard one to review when you don't really have substantial screen material to work from. However, the work put into creating this as a fully realised edition of the series has to be admired. For one the choice of paint finish is sublime. The two shades of grey used work amazingly well with the lighter shade piercing through the darker top coat and giving almost the whole ship - cargo pods and all - an excessively used look as though the top layer of paint has worn away from the hull. It's beautifully uneven, scuffed and marked adding a sense of age to this infamous craft.

The hull panelling is itself very impressive on the upper saucer/primary hull section. There's even a good level of detail around the central bridge module with differing heights of metalwork and continued use of the aged paint finish even on the smallest of areas. Hull markings themselves are kept to a subtle minimum with onyl the ship name and registry to the front while a Starfleet pennant streaks away to the back from behind the bridge. 

At the front is perhaps the weakest element of the Kobayashi Maru in the very plasticy deflector dish which, although translucent, just looks a little cheap against the rest of the decent work on the cargo carrier. To the back of the main hull we have two cleanly painted in impulse engines. Considering the size of these exhaust ports they're been precisely marked in given that there is only a very small grilled area for each.

Oddly for such a craft we have the warp engines attached to the edge of the main hull. Slim, tipped with translucent blue bussard collectors, these nacelles are very well made and quite strong even though they extend back from the hull for a distance that you would think would make them susceptible to bending. Fortunately not but notably these two engines are devoid of the mottled paintjob that covers every other surface. The panel detail on the warp nacelles is lovely but the point that they are finished totally different to the rest of the Kobayashi Maru does draw your eye. 

The metal primary hull is inset with a plastic ventral section when you flip the ship over. The mottled paint work is very subtle on the hull which contrasts rather fiercely against the strong tones of the two cargo pods that run underneath the ship and almost make the main hull look as though it's just the one colour. Get it in the right light though and you will be able to see the difference. The panelling is once more very precise with the plastic inset fitting perfectly. There's no lip, protrusions or bad fitting anywhere on the Kobayashi Maru which is always nice to see especially in these bigger replicas.

The underside has some decal work with panel lining to the front just behind the deflector dish and further Starfleet striping to the very back.

Finally to the cargo pods and well worth a look from the back on this one to see that the engines, hull and pods all manage to line up exactly. There's not a line out of position here and I think you can see this not only in the way that the parts all magically line up but also in the rigidity of the craft itself. On the lengthy cargo pods there's no give at all and spot that they are actually a top and a bottom inset piece all in plastic which might be assisting with the build quality here. 

These two absolutely identical units (bet they were easy to mass produce) carry the strongest two tone paint finish on the vessel on their undersides which could be to indicate that they are at some point hitting the ground and wearing even more heavily. The segmenting of the pods, best seen from the underneath, is wonderful and they are realised from every angle and are even tipped with running lights and completed with another pair of Starfleet pennants.

The Kobayashi Maru isn't one of the lightest ships we've seen which might be your assumption from first glance in the box but there's a bit of weight behind that lump of metal used for the upper primary hull. It looks a lot more flimsy than it actually is.

Stand positioning is simply central with the clip sliding easily over the back of the primary hull and placing the ship in a good, stable display position - although I'd pick a high or low shelf so that you're not just staring at that thin profile!

The 20 page magazine unusually kicks off out-of-universe talking about the appearances of the ship and references to the Kobayashi Maru within the franchise back to The Wrath of Khan and most recently in the 2009 reboot. Including sketches from John Eaves as well as screen shots from the two aforementioned movies, this gives a comprehensive history of the craft plus offers up some possibilities on what it might have looked like and even did look like according to a 1989 novel.

A full eight pages of the magazine are dedicated to the work of ILM on the 2009 reboot movie from JJ Abrams. It also includes reference to their first foray into Star Trek with the Genesis sequence from The Wrath of Khan and the battle in the Mutara Nebula. Eight pages is a tight space to discuss an extensive amount of work and just how it's created for the cinematic audience. Eaglemoss have included some snapshots of ILM's work to give the maximum coverage but this is a topic begging for a nice big fat hardback book.

Rounding out the book is the brief story behind the inclusion of the classic simulator sequence that opens up The Wrath of Khan and how it came to be in the movie and the influence it had on the rest of the story. Amazing to think that such a late addition to the script would prove to be such a memorable piece of Star Trek history.

The Kobayashi Maru special might not be everyone's cup of tea due to its minimal screen impact in the form it's presented here (which wasn't exactly what was filmed) but Eaglemoss has created a great model here that does help to complete the series of ships featured in the recent Kelvin movies. I'm not glowing with wonder over her and there are a lot of the other specials which I'd choose first but this is still a sturdy starship.

Would you recommend the Kobayashi Maru to add to your collection? How does it rate against the other special editions?

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Sunday, 27 January 2019

Dominion Faction Pack: Attack Wing's Second Wind

With the scaling back of Attack Wing to just card pack expansions and paint-your-own models I thought Wizkids tabletop strategy game was being put out to pasture.

While there are no new individual ship packs being produced at the moment I may not be completely right in my assumption because we're also seeing the release of a new starter pack (Federation versus Klingons) plus the all singing and dancing Faction Packs offering new players an instant fleet and allowing veteran campaigners a way to quickly build up their armadas. Currently there are four available - Romulans and Independents being two and we'll be covering the other pair on SKoST.

In my case I've just got hold of the Dominion Faction Pack. As a big Deep Space Niner I disappointed myself by not adding a lot of this body to my collection. So to the ships and as you will recall (obviously...!) from previous reviews, we've seen the repaints for the Jem'Hadar Fighter and the Dominion Battleship previously as part of both Wave 31 and the Fighter independently as the Robinson way back in Wave 21. So if you want to see my thoughts on those ships, take a ganders HEREFor me, the big win here is the inclusion of the Dominion Battle Cruiser last seen in Wave Six a fair few years ago. 

It's been spruced up in a fetching purple paint scheme to match the two other ships in the set. The level of panel detail on this one is extraordinary with raised sections right across the hull both in the base colour and neatly highlighted in a metallic orange. It does feel that this one has been pimped out a bit considering the rather sparkly purple Wizkids have coated this one in alongside the three other ships in the set. 

The darker colour panelling (black) isn't so neatly applied to the Battle Cruiser, noticably blotchy and ill-defined at the pincher-esque bow  and on some of the wing detail. But it's still a great mould that has some very tight little angles and markings especially to the rear and the engine structures protruding from the rear. 

One thing that has changed between Wave 31 and this pack is that the paint scheme weathering seems to have disappeared completely reverting to more solid colours. This is very evident on the Battle Ship in the areas where it is now that dark grey/black just behind the nose section. Probably easier to batch paint a more opaque colour than go all artsy with the weathering. 

The largest of this fleet is the 2nd Division Battleship weighing in at a hefty 35 points with six attack, zero defence, seven hull and five shield points. It doesn't have much over the Battle Cruiser with no inbuilt defence however it does carry six upgrade slots with three for Weapons, one for Tech and two for Crew and the benefit with the Faction Pack is, there's a lot to chop and change between your craft.

Cunningly the unique action for the Battleship allows it to either repair a Hull or Shield point if it performed a green manoeuvre. It can also perform Target Lock, Scan and Battle Stations should the need arise. As for moving, the large Dominion ship can green manoeuvre at speeds one, two and three which also allow for a bank turn left or right. The ship can reach up to speed five with a 90 degree turn at speed three requiring an auxiliary power token as both are red.

With only slightly lower points, the Third Division Battle Cruiser rocks in with five in attack, one defence, six hull and five shields perhaps offering a little more even keel than the high-powered and highly offense-driven Battleship. It's unique action might not assist in it's longevity in the game as with the 35 point capital craft but it does offer any Attack Ships in range one an additional defence die which would be damn useful considering there are two of them in this box. The Cruiser also benefits from the Evade action as well as Scan, Target Lock and Battle Stations and slots for two Tech, one Weapon and two Crew upgrades.

Movement-wise this one has green moves at range one forward and banking left/right, a full set of turns, banks and forward at speed two; the 90 degree turns on speed three are red as is the Come About action available at speed four - not a regular occurrence for this!

The Second and Sixth Wing Patrol Ships both carry a cost of 16 points with three attack, two defence, three hull and three shield points to utilise. Both also pack a Tech, a Weapon and two Crew slots for upgrades - the latter of which seems to be a faction trait and a constant over the ships in the set. As with the Battle Cruiser they have a full range of inbuilt actions but they do have one difference in their Unique Actions. 

The Second Wing choice rolls an additional two defence die if there is another Jem'Hadar ship within range one while the Sixth Wing version offers an additional attack die if it's in close proximity (range one) to another Jem'Hadar craft. Pair this up with the Cruiser and you could be looking at a five dice defence for the 2nd Wing Patrol Ship should you choose to have it bolted to the side of the 33 point Cruiser.

As for manoeuvring, the Patrol Ships offer the same green moves at range one as the Cruiser with the bank turns and forward at speed two also being green. All moves are available at speed three and the forward at four with the Come About being a red move at speed three. All in all it's a pretty nippy set to play with lots of options to get around the battlefield.

Four ships also means four Captain options and even better - none of those zero point generic ones to fill out the pack. Starting at the top of the pile we have the Female Changeling with a skill of nine and the ability to carry an Elite Action for a cost of six points.

This one's "flippable" to act as your Fleet Admiral too should you choose. Her action allows you to an Action from the Action Bar and one from a Dominion crew card at the cost of decreasing your Captain Skill for the round. For the cost at least this one's reusable and a one point skill reduction is well worth the chance to be able to function more during a round.

Yelgrun is the first of two Captain cards costing four points and giving you a skill of six. This one does allow you to field an Elite Action card as well which is a big plus considering the other card with the same skill and cost doesn't.

As an action you can use Yelgrun to target an opposing captain with a higher skill number than yourself at range one to two and decrease that skill by one. The card is a bargain to have this repetitive ability available and will also stop that enemy captain card from using its ability. For the cost this is a very valued card in my opinion giving you some serious advantage over your opponent

Deyos isn't quite such a catch for players relinquishing the Elite Action but still costing four points to purchase for your fleet. Targeting a friendly ship at range one to one allows you to re-equip a discarded upgrade but stops that ship from attacking in that round. Again good as a renewable energies card, this one - as with a lot of the Dominion cards - keeps on giving without fear of disabling or discarding.

Last but not least we have the two point costing Kilana with a Captain Skill of four. Harbouring an Elite Action option, this seems a better choice than Deyos due to both that and that she will take the Time Tokens for a Tech upgrade rather than that card taking the damage. Dead useful and means that some cards become a lot more useful in the right hands.

The Dominion Pack isn't just squeezing in some decent commanders, no way. We have five Crew cards all featuring Jem'Hadar soldiers. Jem'Hadar First, Jem'Hadar Elder and Duran'Adar all costing three points and Talak'Talan and Lamat'Ukan costing two points.

The First allows you to convert one BattleStation into a blank die, an Evade or a Damage point. I suspect that this should be converting a blank die into a Battle Station and someone's put the symbols in the wrong place. The cost for this is three Time Tokens on the card which does mean it's reusable. The Elder again comes at the price of three Time Tokens to use its feature but in the End Phase this stops Battle Stations tokens from being taken out of play when the round resets. This isn't something we see very often in Attack Wing and demonstrates that the designers have really had a big rethink when it comes to these Faction Packs.

Duran'Adar allows you to add another Tech upgrade to your ship. It's the third card that has to receive three Time Tokens for its use but this means you can use a Red Maneuovre and not pay the price of an Auxiliary Power Token. All three of the three point cards are definitely worth a punt given that they can be used over and over again during the game and have some fairly decent play options.

Talak'Talan operates at range one to two and targets all friendly ships to gain a Battle Stations token - this means that the other fleet craft can then take advantage of their own individual actions with a freebie. For two points it's not a bad cost to pay but it's not an action to be using lightly so make sure this one's planned in well. Lamat'Ukan rounds out the five with the chance to convert a blank die into a damage point as long as you've used your Target Lock during Attack. Decent enough for the minimal cost and it's another card in this pack that can be used again and again with no fear of discard or disabling.

If five Crew choices isn't enough then you'll be blown away with the five Weapons options. The two point Minesweeper card allows a Jem'Hadar craft to avoid hitting that wonderful Minefield token (works at range one) and roll an attack die to work out what happens - will you eliminate it or will the minefield activate as normal? It's a literal gamble on this one but at least it's not the near certainly of receiving a shedload of damage from stumbling straight into it.

Energy Dissipator is craft-specific to the Jem'Hadar Fighters, costing two points and operating at range one to two. Being a discard you know it's a decent hit rate and this one allows you to remove one Tech upgrade for each uncancelled Damage or Critical Damage hit from the three attack dice rolled. Cool double result on that and note it can only be fired forwards.

Phased Polaron Beam costs three points and again operates at ranges one and two and is craft specific to the Jem'Hadar Fighter. This time you disable to attack with three dice through the opponent's shields (if any) and can convert a Battle Stations result into a Damage point. Understandably one you need to reactivate there's only a maximum of three Damage you can hit here. 

The other three point card is Disruptor Cannon. Markedly more powerful this six dice attack (yep, six) is an unsurprising discard and can be performed twice by the Jem'Hadar Battleship. Effective at close and medium range this is an unforgiving attack essential to equip on your larger ship allowing for a maximum 12 dice attack for three point cost and a Target Lock. No brainer in my book.

Oddly costing five points and the final Weapon upgrade which can be deployed on any ship in your fleet is Photon Torpedoes. A rather hefty eight dice attack at ranges two or three, it works against uncloaked ships and they must be unshielded. It seems very much like an over the top finishing move but combine with the Disruptor Cannon and you could have a very strong couple of rounds here. Did I add in there that it also converts all Battle Station results to Damage? Probably a good thing this is a one shot card which also needs to use the Target Lock feature. 

Overdoing it in the weapons department, the Dominion pack reins it back in with only two Tech upgrades. The three point Secondary Matter System benefits movement with all two banking and three forward motions acting as green (and thus giving the extra chance to knock off that annoying Auxiliary Power Token you just picked up). It means you don't have to slow to make a repair so to speak and can maintain the pace of your game. Plus it's one that's in continuous operation neither discarded or disabled if used.

Suicide Attack is a final gasp for some form of glory in that if your base is overlapping during Activation then you can deal two Damage to the opponent you've crossed and also sacrifice your own craft. Only for use with the Jem'Hadar Fighters, this one is very, very final.

Last up there are two Elite Actions which, in this pack, you can use with the Female Changeling, Yelgrun and Kilana Captain cards. Spread Despair and Demoralization functions at ranges one and two against all opposing ships within that vicinity. Costing five points it reduces the attack and defence capabilities of those craft by one die, thus giving you a slight tactical advantage. Love the name on this one because it does mean your opponents are less capable for a round plus it might just do exactly what it says on the tin.

A further five points will buy you All Power to Weapons. By disabling your shields and placing three Time Tokens onto the card during Combat it remains active. What it doesn't specify (but must occur) is that this is in play until the Time Tokens "run out". Available for any of the Dominion ships, the chosen ship can only perform Green moves and rolls an additional three attack dice. Smash this on the Battleship and you could be launching a nine dice attack or possibly 11 if combined with the one-off Photon Torpedoes card. Mammoth attack opportunity with this in play and definitely a game changing card.

For new players the Dominion Faction pack allows you to hit the ground running with a complete four ship fleet and all the pieces you need to battle the Federation. I was dumb enough not to get these on the first run through leaving me waiting for the repaints and with this I have pretty much every faction well and truly covered. The larger ships here do have the potential to be ridiculously overpowered by attaching some of the higher Weapon and Tech cards but one thing that is an improvement is the limitation of some features to particular types of ship. The slight redesign of the cards plus the detailed repaints really have worked for me and given Attack Wing a new, late, lease of life beyond simple card expansions and this is one pack that will definitely be getting a lot of use.

The Dominion Faction Pack is available now from all good retailers of Asmodee Games in the UK. Check their website for further details.

If you enjoyed this article or know someone that might, please share!

Have you added the Dominion to your fleet? What feature combinations work out the best?

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Saturday, 26 January 2019

New Eden: Going Planetside S2 E02

Following the explosive events of Brother last week, it felt like we stepped down a notch this week with New Eden.

Returning The Next Generation actor/director Jonathan Frakes to the franchise behind the camera, the second episode of the new season continued the story arc surrounding the Red Angel but managed to pull off an exceedingly Star Trek scenario as its centre piece.

Investigating the red bursts which were it becomes clear, detected before their arrival by Spock, Discovery finds a new instance and breaks out the Spore Drive one - sorry - two more times to perform a jump into the Beta Quadrant to save themselves a 150 year trip.

The planet they arrive at is home to a human colony that should not exist complete with wooden church and vegetable patches sending out a repeated distress call. Pike, Burnham and Lieutenant Owosekun beam down to take a look all the while citing the Prime Directive since this group appear to be a pre-warp civilisation.

Did like the whole mix of religions piece within the community's holy texts and the way in which the church was decorated with different symbols and signs plus the distinctive Red Angel form in its windows to tell the story of how the building came to be billions of miles away from Earth. Budget restrictions for a TV episode do the same thing that happened with Generations in that a larger population is mentioned (Veridian IV in that case) but we don't see more than four people or converse with more than two and thus lose any real sense of the humanity and level of danger and potential loss.

On board the Discovery the crew work out that the planet is doomed do highly radioactive material in its rings leading Tilly to take action contrary to orders involving the asteroid the ship collected in its shuttlebay in Brother. However, without that link to the bigger picture of society on Terra Lyceum the emotional link to the danger just never kicks in.

Discovery's Red Angel storyline seems to take an age to unwind this week after the "big reveal" in the season premiere and everything about New Eden feels like we've put a foot on the brake and gone out for lunch. It does offer up a very familiar tale with displaced humans (their ancestors were taken from Earth in 2053) but skirts the much vaunted Prime Directive on more than one occasion and it seems there's little care to cover up their movements to an almost blase level. \Heck, I know that the ship and away teams can't communicate but even when they're back aboard Discovery, Pike does nothing about the blatant violation and even beams down in full uniform...hmmmmmmmph.

It's great to see the extended main cast/bridge crew recognised with Owosekun joining the team this week for a bit of location work which suggests that the Red Angel is a lot more powerful than we've been led to believe. Detmer, Airiam and Bryce are also well-served with the script involving them in the climactic shipboard events and giving them all more to do than punch a few buttons in the background.

Pike and Burnham's interactions with the inhabitants of the planet they call Terra Lyceum are strangely relaxed with the threats and danger posed casually tossed aside in a story that doesn't seem to really know what it wants to be from start to finish. The main character on the planet, Jacob, swings from near terrorist and crazed local throwing flashbang grenades around to being Pike's best friend in a whirlwind of sequences which aren't helped by the 42 minute run time that crams a lot of attempted character moments in but seems to avoid any real heart to the episode.

Even Tilly's storyline involving the asteroid and and managing to save the planet's inhabitants from a near catastrophic event is almost too overladen with the ensign's typical quirkiness turned up to 11. Mary Wiseman is a great actress with a wonderfully nuanced role in Tilly but here she's all over the place disobeying orders, bouncing around all over the place and getting only just a minor slap on the wrist from Saru at the end of the show. 

The fanfare around Jonathan Frakes directing New Eden will certainly have drawn fans new and old to Discovery this week. As a standalone story of the ship investigating an unknown colony it's been done before in various variations from A Piece of the Action to the non-interference and observations of Who Watches the Watchers through to later works such as Northern Star, all of which have executed this kind of tale more effectively and with more heart. 

New Eden is a big disappointment and verges on feeling like a filler episode with only the question of exactly why Tilly is seeing an old classmate from school to really push you to want to see next week's instalment. I suspect it's all going to be linked together somehow with the main Red Angel/Spock thread which will unravel over the next 11 weeks. 

Some cool little things this time through with the news that Spock is in a psychiatric ward after self-admitting himself a week into his leave. Good to see Star Trek history getting some respect with World War III mentioned and also the point around the 2053 origin point being before warp technology would be invented on Earth exactly a decade later.

Visually the show is getting more and more cinematic each week with the best example of its evolution from season one being some of the jaw-dropping, saliva inducing fly-bys of the Discovery which highlight every panel line and even go down to the accuracy of being able to spot the asteroid fragment in the open shuttlebay.

Final point - what the hell is going on with the Spore Drive? As I seem to recall it was due to be dismantled at the end of season one and mothballed for safety reasons. That clearly hasn't happened yet with the arrival of Pike and the instigation of the Red Angel investigation and pretty quickly we're all fine with spooling it up again and jaunting across the galaxy.

In this regard and concerning the Prime Directive, Discovery seems to be incredibly happy to just go with the flow with no apparent long term concerns and certainly Stamets has speedily changed his mind on wanting to use the micelial network (although that might be down to whom he is seeing in there).

Discovery tries its best here to be '60's The Original Series and late '80's The Next Generation in its moral standpoint but abandons it on beamdown. The choice to do a story type that is steeped in Star Trek history is a big risk and for this series it's not a good fit. Discovery is Star Trek but yet maintains (or did til this episode) it's own identity. Through the attempted emulation of "proper" Star Trek it may have made it's biggest failing.

Is New Eden Discovery finding its feet or tripping over its shoelaces?

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Friday, 18 January 2019

Brother: Discovery is Back; S2 E01

Picking up right at the second that season one ended, the Discovery is face on with the USS Enterprise.

But that's not the only big canon-linking event going on here because we've also treated to the first meeting between Michael and Spock at the Sarek/Amanda family home on Vulcan.

It's not the most loving or accepting of relationships as has been hinted at before but even that first meeting created an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. 

This hour long-intro to season two is all about introductions with the arrival of Anson Mount's Captain Pike accompanied by a science officer (not Spock) and an engineer with a mission to investigate one of seven red bursts that have appeared in the galaxy. Enterprise has been incapacitated and Discovery is to take on the mission.

Pike is a complete change to the universe-jumping Lorca of season one, he remembers the crew's names after just one flash through of his bridge team (nice reminder to viewers there) but is haunted by the fact that Starfleet kept his ship out on its five year mission while the Klingon War raged on. He's a lot more softly spoken than I expected, thoughtful and considerate, even comparing himself directly to his predecessor as he settles in. Honestly, I think Mount nails the part from the first line as he steps off the transporter pad and I instantly "got" this guy. He's right for the ship and right for the show.

The mission seems simple enough however arriving in the middle of an asteroid field, it appears that the red burst has vanished but there is a crashed Starfleet vessel, the USS Hiawatha, reported lost ten months previous during the Klingon War.

Pike and Burnham execute a rescue mission for the injured crew which introduces us to the Chief Engineer of the crashed frigate and something appears to Burnham before she can leave the ship. What it is we don't know but you can be assured it's connected to the seven red bursts. Again with Tig Notaro's appearance there's still a nuance of humour even though the situation isn't exactly at its rosiest and that's not something we'd have seen even attempted in season one which now, even an hour into year two, looks like it was way over the top serious for its own good.

Brother really does delve back into the character of Burnham with both her and Sarek reflecting on their disjointed relationship with the their foster brother/son. Thing is that by the very fact of his absence, "older" Spock overwhelms the episode in virtually every scene because he's out there somewhere. Not on the Enterprise (which is in for repairs for the foreseeable) but in the great beyond looking for answers. We know he will turn up and that clock has only just started ticking. The ending certainly clarifies this not only with a visit to his quarters on the Enterprise but also through the Ethan Peck-voiced personal log which reveals that he is definitely linked in to the events Pike was sent to investigate.

The tone of the episode is much lighter than we ever saw in season one. Everyone is much more at ease and relaxed with each other and there's the odd touch of humour to humanise the series after the brutality of the war.

Stamets and Tilly are also back with the former about to depart the Discovery for pastures new and the latter still talking way more than she needs to but perhaps being the character that many of us can associate with the most. 

The break in the season has worked well for Discovery with its longest episode to date, a makeover for the ship on the standing sets and as a series, there's a lot of money being pumped in here as can be seen from the sequence in which Burnham attempts to escape from the crumbling wreck of the Hiawatha. You can understand exactly the accusation leveled at Gretchen J Berg and Aaron Harberts for their overspend early in the season which was one of the reasons for their untimely departure. Check out the corridor sequence with the crew looking up into the shuttlebays, the passage of the turbolift and a whole host more.

As for their script and the unusual choice of Alex Kurtzman as episode director, everything is very competently done. There's a lot of bounce to any scene with Tilly in it and you can feel that she's definitely one that the writers love to provide words for. There are a couple of very "un-Gene" swear words in there but those two parts combined make Star Trek much more approachable and not quite so far up its own rectum as has occurred on a couple of occasions. Brother is extremely accessible for new starters offering a very useful recap as well as an overview of the ship and hints of what has happened in more detail. 

As a season opener this has everything. There's a good character-based story wrapped around Burnham, some genuinely exciting action sequences including an impressive landing pod journey that would give the space flight part of Into Darkness a run for its money on visual quality and suspense and enough questions to keep us tied in for the next 12 weeks. The darker tone of the first season and the impact Lorca had are alluded to on a few occasions with the remains of one of his fortune cookies even making an uncomfortable appearance once Pike is placed in more permanent command of the ship while his is getting repaired.

Few cool things to watch out for as well in this one - the 3D chess set for one as well as some of the Vulcan accoutrements adorning Spock's quarters, the appearance of a Saurian (maybe?) with Linus plus a rather nice nod to canon with the crew complement of the Enterprise noted at 203 - half of what it would be by the time that Kirk would be in command. Well referenced there show writers, well referenced. 

Looking back to other second season openers - Amok Time, The Child, Homecoming, The 37's, Shockwave Part II, this is a damn strong episode that offers so much up and with that lighter, more inclusive tone, shows that Discovery has learnt from the missteps of its first season and hopefully shows that season two could be the strongest and most consistent sophomore of any Star Trek since The Original Series. As starts go, this is a solid warp eight so, to quote Pike, Hit It!

What are your hopes for season two? What was your rating for Brother?

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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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