Two Star Trek Graphic Novel Reviews

>> Thursday, July 9, 2009

I've been in a Star Trek mood of late. Besides the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise (which I enjoyed) we've been watching a lot of TNG-era Trek at home. After not giving Star Trek: Voyager much of a chance when it was in first-run syndication, Wendi and I are working our way back through the series via Netflix. We're halfway through season three, and we're interested enough to keep watching--although still not nearly as devoted to this one as we were/are to The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Jo's been watching them with us though, and she's definitely into it.

So in the meantime, in the odd days when we have nothing from Netflix sitting on top of our television to be watched at dinner, we've been pulling out our Star Trek: The Next Generation discs (we own all seven seasons) and watching the good, the bad, and the ugly among them with Jo to show her our favorite Trek. So between the new movie, on-going Voyager viewings, and Next Generation re-viewings, I've been in Trek heaven.

To further feed my recent Star Trek obsession, I picked up two Star Trek Graphic novels with promise: Star Trek: Countdown, a comic book prequel to the recent Star Trek movie meant to answer a lot of questions left on the editing room floor, and Star Trek: The Next Generation - Forgiveness, a story that mixes an adventure with the TNG crew with a bit of teleporter history. I enjoyed both, and reviews follow for interested folks. There are minor spoilers, but I try not to totally give away plot resolutions...

Star Trek: Countdown
Story by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Written by Tim Jones and Mike Johnson
Art by David Messina

I enjoyed this prequel, which provides a great deal of back story for the villain Nero of the 2009 Star Trek movie franchise reboot. As the screenwriters say in their brief afterward, this prequel is more a love letter to some of their favorite characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation than anything else. That's the real highlight here: seeing TNG favorites like Picard, Data, LaForge, and Worf in their later lives. Each is woven believably and seamlessly into the Spock/Nero Vulcan/Romluan storyline. If you're a fan of TNG (as I am) you'll relish these characters in their new roles. (And you'll be happy to see they quickly undo Data's lame "return to innocence" from Star Trek: Nemesis.)

The weakest part of the story is consequently the weakest part of the entertaining new Star Trek movie; Nero's motivation to destroy Vulcan and just about everyone else in the universe is tenuous at best. Why exactly is it Spock's fault that Romulus was destroyed, when he seemed to be the only one trying to stop it? And if Romulus is on the verge of destruction, why doesn't Nero take his wife and child with him on his mission to save the planet? Well, the Romulans have never been logical, and neither is that part of the story. I'll let it pass. More interesting to me is that all the nutty, unexplained details in the movie--Nero's tattoos, his pointy staff, his almost omnipotent and clearly not-Romulan ship, and more--are given plausible, even entertaining, explanations here.

An enlightening and enjoyable companion to the blockbuster movie.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Forgiveness
Written by David Brin
Art by Scott Hampton

The premise of this graphic novel is intriguing: one hundred years before human history acknowledges the invention of the ubiquitous Star Trek transporter, someone *else* invented it--a melancholy genius named Colin Blakeney. But no one knows he invented the transporter a hundred years early because just as he's about to test beaming himself through it a crazed protester who thinks transporters will steal humanity's souls sabotages it, and both men are beamed away to...where?

Cut to the 24th century, where the Enterprise is headed into a delicate diplomatic situation with a race essentially given a prison sentence for accidentally releasing a bio-engineered virus that killed millions of people across the galaxy. After two generations, the guilty parties are long since dead and their grandchildren long to be free of the sphere of mines that surround their homeworld and prevent them from rejoining the interstellar community. This is, of course, the moment the Enterprise picks up an anomalous transporter signal, brings its "occupant" on board--the long lost transporter genius, cast adrift as particles in space all those years ago.

Blakeney's in a kind of fugue state after the loss of his family and his invention, and, you know, floating around as data in space for a couple of hundred years. Crusher and Data walk Blakeney through his memories in a nice trick with the holodeck while a tense standoff ensues with the quarantined race and the Enterprise. The two events end up intersecting, of course, leading to a disappointingly rushed ending which sees Data do some startlingly rash things that, in 99 cases out of 100, would have led to his own nasty death and an inconvenient war between the Federation and the imprisoned planet. But everything works out in the end, of course, and everyone is forgiven--hence the title.

David Brin is a veteran science fiction writer with real chops, and artist Scott Hampton's painted style is extraordinarily effective--especially in the scenes with ships in space. (The Enterprise-E has never looked so majestic.) Besides the hurried ending, I also wish there had been more time to explore Dr. Crusher's infatuation with her new patient, briefly alluded to by the perceptive Counselor Troi.

I also have to scratch my head--again--at the timing of the story. For continuity reasons I can only assume were mandated by the studio/publisher, this story takes place at the same time the Dominion War is raging on at the other side of the quadrant. The Dominion War may have drawn in the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, and the Breen, but for some inexplicable reason it hasn't drawn Starfleet's biggest, baddest battleship--the USS Enterprise. The reason in TV continuity was clear: TNG was over, and the Dominion War was Deep Space Nine's fight to win or lose.

To pretend the Enterprise was simply always dispatched to some other place in the war (and off screen) is one thing, but to make it *part of the story* that the Enterprise is held *in reserve,* to "handle urgent matters elsewhere" is preposterous. Really? The flag ship of the fleet, running errands in wartime? Absolutely unbelievable, yet Brin has to waste a two page spread explaining it here, when it's totally unnecessary to the plot of his story. Again, it's not his fault. The Powers That Be pulled this nonsense one of the TNG movies too, if memory serves. Why oh why could they not have just made this adventure set in the nebulous post-history of DS9? Surely there's nothing in this that has any bearing on galaxy-wide continuity. Again, a head-scratcher--just a die-hard fan's minor quibble with the higher ups.

Overall, an enjoyable return to the Enterprise of The Next Generation.


tanita davis July 9, 2009 at 4:59 PM  

Are you our next door neighbors (in a completely random time/space continuum way)? We just last weekend said, "You know, maybe we never gave Voyager a chance..." and watched the first episode.


We're still not sure we're going to give it a chance, but the graphic novels sound intriguing.

Alan July 9, 2009 at 8:14 PM  

@ Tanita: Perhaps we are merely soul neighbors, which defies space and time.

Words of advice with Voyager then, if you decide to get lost in the Delta Quadrant:

Season One is really rough, as any first season is.

The first half of season two is just dreadful. Dreadful. Punctuated by the episode that broke me the first time: Threshold. It's so bad it's good, if you know what I mean. It's a real laugher. We almost gave up *again* at this point, but decided to push on to see if we had missed much. To their credit, the secon season of Voyager got considerably better. Season three has been all right, but we're still not in love.

Season Four, we know, will bring changes to the crew, so we're interested to see how that plays out. And we're fans of at least two of the characters: Tuvok and the Doctor. But for now, Voyager seems harmless enough--even if it makes us wish we owned DS9 on disc...

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