10/07/2011

Star Trek #1

By Mike Johnson, Stephen Molnar, John Rauch, Neil Uyetake, with Robert Orci
Based on the story written by Samuel A. Peeples

The fortunes of the Star Trek franchise have changed drastically through the years - from enjoying mainstream success in the mid-80s, to becoming almost universally dismissed (or actively reviled) during the airing of Enterprise. By the time that series ended in 2005, Star Trek's own internal continuity had become incomprehensible to most viewers, and even longtime fans. If the franchise was going to regain a modicum of its former success, most of it would have to be jettisoned. The 2009 film, simply titled Star Trek, went even further and relaunched the original series itself. The plot utilized that hoary trope of time-travel altering history. Only this time and without explanation, no one even bothered to restore things to the status quo.* But the film was less interested with getting mired in the pesky plot mechanics of time-travel, and focused instead on the breezy interplay of its re-imagined cast. This gambit worked, in part due to the overall likability of its lead actors, who managed to update the original characters without parodying them. It probably helped that Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role as arguably the series most iconic character, was there to give them, and himself, a fond send-off. Both casuals and diehards turned out in droves at the cinema.**

The film was largely praised by mainstream critics. But if you happen to share the opinions of disgruntled fans like Roger Ebert, who perceived within it a lack of philosophical introspection and scientific curiosity, then the new Star Trek comic book series from IDW is meant for you. The franchise's previous comic book adaptations were never the center of attention. But given the newly refurbished state of the Star Trek universe, the Powers That Be have decided to revisit several classic episodes from the TV series and give them the reboot treatment. For issue #1, it comes as no surprise that the story is from the network pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". It's been awhile since I've watched it, but the comic feels like a careful outlining of the differences between old and new. Most notable are the references to what characters did or didn't make it to the film. While not overly intrusive, it might seem odd to newer readers that so much word space is devoted at the beginning to who got promoted to what rank within the chain of command. A pair of characters who are pertinent to the plot come in as old friends of Captain James Kirk from his Starfleet Academy days, having never had so much as a cameo in the film. Their insertion into the crew is a reminder of the episodic structure of the source material, and this naturally makes them feel more like guest stars than members of the regular cast.


None of this poses a significant barrier to the uninitiated. But those who enjoyed the fast-paced, action adventure of the film might find the comic's pacing rather sedate. Not one phaser or photon torpedo is fired. Not once does Kirk get his ass kicked. This issue tells the first half of the story, which is a steady build-up to an inevitable showdown. This issue's panels are filled with talking heads discussing the mounting crisis at hand. Like most Star Trek comics, there's a premium placed on getting the actors' likenesses correct.This thankless job is carried out with a better than average performance by Stephen Molnar. His comparatively realistic figures contrast with the more schematic rendering of the starship interiors. It's nice to look at, if not particularly exciting.

The 2009 film carefully balanced reinvention with nostalgia. It acknowledged the franchise's history without being overly-literal with its references, only borrowing loosely from multiple sources. The comic book gifts to longtime fans by confirming that some of that history will be repeated, more or less, by bringing back specific events from the classic TV series. It's my understanding that the comic will somehow tie all this into the plot of the upcoming film sequel. Given the interchangeable nature of the original material, I wonder how much it will try to avoid, or will simply end up, chasing its own past down the rabbit hole?


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* Usually, Captain Picard, or someone else, would have noticed something was amiss, then raced back in time to stop the film's bad guy Nero from changing the past. Sometimes it seemed that the only thing Starfleet did from the 90s onward was fly around fixing time paradoxes.

** The film could be considered a Crisis On Infinite Earths styled in-story reset that appealed to geeks. But it was also a way for everyone else to reconnect with one of popular culture's most recognizable television shows, while conveniently sidelining the rest of the franchise. After all, no one cares about Captain Archer. But who doesn't know Spock?