50th Trek: Star Trek: Boldly Go #1 & Star Trek: Waypoint #1

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'm writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.

It occurred to me that I haven’t discussed any of the comic books being published to honor the occasion of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. So here are two titles from IDW. I’ve found the marketing surrounding this milestone to be strangely anemic, and I wasn’t aware of these comics until the last few days. How pitiful is that?

Star Trek: Boldly Go #1  Story: Mike Johnson  Art: Tony Shasteen  Colors: Davide Mastrolonardo Letters: AndWorld Designs. Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
Star Trek: Boldly Go #1

Story: Mike Johnson
Art: Tony Shasteen
Colors: Davide Mastrolonardo
Letters: AndWorld Designs

[Spoiler Alert for Star Trek Beyond]

An oft-repeated truism among fans is that Star Trek is better suited for television than cinema. The reason usually given by them is that Trek’s brand of introspective storytelling isn’t perfectly compatible with the spectacle often associated with the silver screen. But a simpler reason is that Trek was originally designed to be an episodic TV show. Over the course of its initial run, the show acquired a rather complicated history. This history would become a rich backstory referenced by future films, for all intents turning them into longer, more expensive television episodes possessing much better production values.

This close connection between the two parts of the franchise was somewhat ruptured with the Kelvin timeline. The venerable Leonard Nimoy was on hand for the 2009 cinematic reboot to inform the new cast (and remind the audience) about a continuity that had now become a sign for what could have been. Now unable to directly use the original timeline, the two sequels would sometimes refer to new, never before filmed events. In lieu of a TV show, IDW would launch a new comic book series to helpfully fill-in the events that took place between the films. Unfortunately, this is the best that fans can expect of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew of the Kelvin timeline. It’s highly unlikely that this particular cast would agree to meet the additional demands of shooting a television series. And even the film sequels still leaned heavily on Nimoy and nostalgia for the original timeline to lend emotional heft to their proceedings. The comic books still felt relatively incidental to the films.

But while the relationship between print and screen may be one-sided, IDW is committed for now to keeping the Kelvin timeline alive between film launches. Star Trek: Boldly Go is a continuation of the comic book series, only now under a new title. The comic picks up where Star Trek Beyond left off. The film notoriously destroyed the Enterprise yet again, only to promise that everyone would soon reunite with a brand new starship. This series gets to tell what happened to them in the meantime.

All in all, this is an entertaining, if conventional, reintroduction to the main characters. Just like the cast of the Original Series from the early films, James Kirk and company have been scattered to different Starfleet commissions throughout Federation space. Unlike TOS Kirk, the new Kirk has decided not to pursue the promotion to the post of admiral. That’s a shame, since I found that one of the more visually cooler settings of STB was the space station Yorktown. Kirk has decided instead to accept the assignment of “interim captain” of another starship, and he’s accompanied by the good doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy and the always eager ensign Pavel Chekov. I'll admit, his presence on the ship is particularly bittersweet for reasons that have nothing to do with the comic.

Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen capture the tone and look of the films’ cast while integrating a few elements from the original timeline. The infamous Delta Quadrant plays an important role. The ill-fated captain Clark Terrell from The Wrath of Khan makes his first appearance. But the most fascinating thing about Kirk being assigned to a new ship are the new crewmembers, particularly a Romulan first mate and a Tellarite doctor. This keeps the story from being another familiar retread.

By the end of this issue, all the members of the band, minus a Montgomery Scott still schooling wet-nosed cadets at Starfleet Academy, have been more or less reunited by an obligatory new threat to the Federation. “New” here being a relative term, because it’s actually an all-too familiar enemy in the original timeline. In fact, I’m surprised that such a significant adversary was introduced so early in the series and in a comic book instead of being reserved for a future film.

Star Trek: Waypoint #1  Story: Donny Cates, Sandra Lanz Art: Mack Chater, Sandra Lanz Colors: Jason Lewis, Dee Cunniffe Letters: AndWorld Designs. Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
Star Trek: Waypoint #1

Story: Donny Cates, Sandra Lanz
Art: Mack Chater, Sandra Lanz
Colors: Jason Lewis, Dee Cunniffe
Letters: AndWorld Designs

If the Kelvin timeline isn’t making the jump to the small screen anytime soon, the original timeline is still being treated as fertile ground for now. A new television series is currently in the late stages of development and will be released next year. In the meantime, IDW’s new anthology series Star Trek: Waypoint is the venue for creators to tell stories in the vein of classic Star Trek. Using well-trod characters who already embody the humanitarian spirit approved by the late Gene Roddenberry. These are stories that would fit into the episodic structure of a typical Trek series. They’re light on extravagant action set-pieces, but composed largely of intimate conversations characteristic of the franchise. Waypoint offers a taste for what Trek was to many fans.

Occupying the bulk of the issue, “Puzzles” features an out of continuity tale about an Enterprise run by two people: Geordi La Forge and Data. Geordi has been promoted to ship’s captain while Data’s mind has been uploaded into the Enterprise mainframe. Data now projects holograms of himself while working on every task on the bridge, and even in other parts of the ship. Needless to say, it’s an eerie sight to see Geordi surrounded by only one other ghostlike presence.

When the Enterprise encounters an immense glowing cube floating in deep space, their attempts to make contact are rebuffed. But they soon figure out that the cube is a time-displaced vessel that is critically damaged, putting its own crew in mortal danger. However, Geordi and Data soon discover that rescuing the crew might possibly be breaking the Prime Directive.

This type of moral quandary is par for the course for The Next Generation, and so is the eventual solution which favors compassion over a strictly legalistic interpretation of the law. Geordi and Data, who usually operate as the braintrust for captain Jean-Luc Picard, now behave more like a Kirk and Spock when pondering their actions. Data even paraphrases Spock’s famous dictum “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Artist Mack Chater isn’t the most evocative when trying to portray Trek’s futuristic setting, but he gets to draw these two as older, more world-weary individuals making difficult choices.

The second and much shorter “Daylily” tells the story of lieutenant Nyota Uhura stranded on an alien planet when a transporter mishap separates her from the rest of the away team. She encounters and befriends one of the native life-forms, who makes a point of keeping her company until the Enterprise can resolve the problem.

It’s an uncomplicated anecdote that nonetheless underscores the open-minded attitude towards discovering new life that every Starfleet officer is supposed to exhibit when on a mission. But Sandra Lanz is the comic’s most expressive artist, and she uses her talents to draw attention to a character who never really had the spotlight shine on her during the TOS era. Her Uhura is remarkable in its likeness to actress Nichelle Nichols, and the warm palette she employs reinforces the story’s optimistic message.


Comic-Con Album Pt 42

Mark Hamill, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Nikon n90s 35mm SLR camera, Fujifilm NPZ800 color negative 35mm film.
Mark Hamill, Comic-Con exhibit hall

I believe he was shooting Comic Book: The Movie at the time. Never watched it. I hear it's a weird little commentary on the state of superhero movies at the time.

This marks the end point for this particular segment of the series. The output for this Comic-Con album was not as prolific as last year's event. It would be several years before I would get comfortable with color, and only after I had transitioned to digital photography. The analog equivalent is a tough medium to master.

Pt  29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41,


Ultraman Vol. 4

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.
Story: Eiichi Shimizu
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi

Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

The bold tagline for the Ultraman manga might be “This is the beginning of a new age”, but the series has so far been looking back to the previous era. Ever since Shinjiro Hayata inherited the superhero mantle from his father Shin Hayata, he’s been required by Edo, Mitsuhiro Ide, Dan Moroboshi, and the rest of the old men of the Special Science Search Party (SSSP) that he deserves to work with them. Everything they’ve done to him is for the most part a continuing series of trials to prove that the new Ultraman is as capable as the original. Will they finally learn to trust Shinjiro and ease off a bit on their high expectations after four volumes? Not a chance. If anything, they just crank it up a notch. I’m not sure if this is some metaphor for the enormous pressures faced by our current generation of kids? Or is this what happens when nostalgia exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on popular culture?

Unfortunately, Shinjiro is still a bit of a doormat despite being constantly needled by Moroboshi since they met back in volume 2. The SSSP agent doesn’t believe that the teenager has the stones to be the professional killer of extraterrestrial terrorists required by the job. And It doesn’t really help Shinjiro’s confidence when it was revealed in volume 3 that Moroboshi also wears his own Ultraman suit, which Moroboshi describes as the 7.1 version of the series. Fans of the franchise will recognize the reference to Ultraseven, the second Ultra hero of the franchise. Additionally, the supporting character Jack is a thinly veiled reference to Ultraman Jack. With his dad included, Shinjiro is constantly being judged by at least three past Ultras on whether he can live up to their heroic legacy.

The volume’s big set piece isn’t just another fight with a rogue alien, but a battle orchestrated by the SSSP in order for Shinjiro to unlock another hidden ability. The organization sets a new standard of ruthlessness by exhibiting a willingness to endanger not just Shinjiro, but the lives of innocent bystanders. Given such crass behavior, his unquestioning loyalty to the SSSP is surprising and disappointing. He’s simply too absorbed with his new superpower to care. Shinjiro continues to be a very dull main protagonist, and the lack of appreciable character development from him after 4 volumes is starting to grate.

Also frustrating is the slow pacing of the manga. The serial killer/stalker case from volume 1 is only now clawing its way to some kind of belated solution. But this long simmering B-plot has so far been deeply uninteresting. This should have been resolved a lot more quickly. But teen idol Rena Sayama and her father police detective Endo have been used in such a random and disjointed manner, they come across more like filler than people who really matter to the storyline. If the narrative arc is going to be stretched out to this degree, can't there be at least one character who isn't so one-dimensional readers can't nurture some emotional investment?

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.


Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.
By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset)
Translated by Helge Dascher.

Beautiful Darkness is sort of a cruel joke played on readers who believe in the power of fairy tales. Or to be more precise the kind of fairy tales parents usually tell their kids when they want to assure them there is a higher power who punishes the wicked and rewards the innocent. In the later graphic novel Beauty (which was also drawn by Kerascoët in a completely different visual style), there are supernatural forces who interfere in the lives of mere mortals. No such beings exists here. Whatever magic is manifested is entirely earthbound and found only within human beings. But what happens when the moral order that guides them is dissolved and humanity’s constituent fragments are left to fend for themselves? BD explores in miniature what happens during the slow decay of civilized order and logic into the uncaring but much grander patterns of the natural world.

If this sounds very grim, the book’s narrative approach is disarmingly seductive. The story begins looking very much like a conventional children’s book illustrated in lush watercolors. A spritely blonde woman with large black eyes named Aurora is living a fantasy life as a princess. She’s having tea with her princely, redheaded beau Hector when their world suddenly begins to liquefy around them. As giant slimy globs fall, the denizens of this kingdom fight their way through the purification until they emerge into the open air. The reader is then made aware of the story’s first major twist: that their grand home is the body of a young girl who has died in the woods under mysterious circumstances.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

The cause for the girl’s sudden death is never fully revealed, through an ominous full-sized adult figure keeps hovering in the background and will come to play an important role later on. Led by the irrepressible Aurora, the sprites attempt to rebuild their world around the girl’s rotting corpse like survivors eking out a living near the ruins of a crumbling city. The entire project starts out in good spirits, and everyone appears to be more-or-less cooperating with each other. But cracks soon appear as each character starts pursuing their own competing agendas.

BD’s narrative possesses a deceptive episodic structure. Everything starts out with an air of naive optimism. The incidents are mostly comical and seemingly inconsequential. But as the mistakes accrue, each mishap and misadventure pulls the sprites inexorably towards some terrible doom. Halfway through, there’s a growing sense that events have reached a point of no return. The sprites increasingly turn on each other and blood is spilled on a more regular basis. What starts out as an impromptu society has broken up into factions.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

What enhances that dread is the cartoonishly cute manner of the sprites. This gives them a sense of vulnerability which stands in stark contrast to the humans and the natural setting, which are drawn with detailed realism. This visual contrast underlies a difference in scale. The magical beings are dwarfed by their surroundings, making them appear to be constantly in danger from attacks from the local fauna and exposure to the elements. But that scale mostly emphasizes the overall indifference that greets the sprites. For the most part, nature simply ignores them. And that kind of cosmic insignificance is so much worse.

The cartoony style is also key to making the sprites into instantly recognizable archetypes. There’s the shy wallflower, the manipulative queen bee, the eager sidekick, the self-sufficient loner, the squabbling triplets, the cutie doll, etc. Hector is a foppish aristocrat with little depth to him. As they all emerged from a dead girl’s corpse, it’s easy enough to suppose that they might embody different facets of her psyche. If this is the case, then Aurora is the heart of the girl. Sweet and trusting, the image of unassuming feminine beauty, she’s the only person who seems emotionally invested in keeping everyone together. And her reaction to her own failures makes for some of the book’s most unsettling passages.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

Given BD’s premise and increasingly gloomy tone, I’m not entirely surprised that the book has drawn comparisons with Lord of the Flies. Both map out how altruism eventually loses out to the Will to Power. It’s certainly possible to see in BD’s subversion of fantasy imagery a nihilistic critique of the illusory nature of morality and futility of civilized modernity. This could be the most accurate interpretation of the tale, given the creators’ cultural milieu.

But there’s something about the lovely portrayal of verdant nature that reminds me of the Sea of Corruption in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Just as humanity fights a losing battle against the world-spanning toxic forest, the sprites are slowly being consumed by the incomprehensibly vast woods. The story begins in spring and follows the imperceptible rhythm of nature’s seasonal changes. BD ends on a down note, during the depth of winter. But just as Nausicaä saw a vision of a world cleansed of man-made pollution, maybe there’s a new, beautiful spring beyond the last page of this book? Or maybe not.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.