September 24, 2011

IDW Publishing Reviews: Star Trek Ongoing #1

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Written by: Andy
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Star Trek Ongoing #1
Writer: Mike Johnson
Artist: Stephen Molnar
Publisher: IDW
Release Date:
September 21, 2011

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the 2009 Star Trek movie’s starship, Enterprise. The crew is younger, bolder, and less goofy than the one from the 1960s. Its continuing mission is to explore the strange new worlds visited in the original T.V. series, but with a more modern edge. This first voyage starts out strong, touching on the lore of the 4th episode of the original show entitled, Where No Man Has Gone Before, bringing the suspense and feeling of a lingering threat, but without the cheese.

After reading this issue, I immediately went back and watched the episode it’s based on (they’re all streaming on Netflix). If you haven’t seen it yet and are interested, read this issue first and then give it a watch. You’ll be blown away at how well writer Mike Johnson and artist Stephen Molnar do of including all the key elements from the show, and even the superfluous stuff. That’s the motif of this series- reinventing the original episodes, and right from the opening pages the creative team lets the Trekkies know their sacred lore will be respected. Check out some similarities:

This is the second page of the issue…

…and this is the opening scene of the episode.

What's that metal thing…

…I don't know, but they beamed it onboard the ship!

A little chit-chat in the hallway remembering old times…

…happened in the show, too.

Johnson’s writing is absolutely excellent, which is no easy task considering most of this issue is talking on a ship with very little action. After seeing some of the examples above, he clearly understands this episode and has done a great job with this adaptation. He finds all of the crew’s individual voices, too. Sure, the characters look like the actors from the new movie, but Johnson writes most of them with the voices of their 1960s counterparts. My wife and I had a fun time reading the lines out loud in the style of Shatner and Nemoy. Good times. The only character who really sounds like the new movie actor is Bones. He has a few amusing one liners, my favorite being, “I finally gave him a book of poetry to shut him up.” Don’t kill me Trek fans, but this modern, younger version of Kirk reminds me a lot of Cade Skywalker from Star Wars Legacy. That should be taken as compliment.

I would like to see Uhura used more, and not just as a love interest for Spock or the person who relays information and exposition. I want to see her strength and poise as the most prominent woman on the Enterprise. It is worth noting that even though she was in this issue, she didn’t appear in the original episode. Instead, it was this guy:

…yeah, he didn't stick around long.

I was going back and forth about the art. At first I liked Molnar’s clean, finished tone, but something still felt off. The faces look great in close up shots, but lose their definition in wider shots. For instance, Sulu didn’t look Asian, Bones lost his features at times and Kirk often looked stoic. I do realize it must be a challenge to recreate the visages of actual living people consistently whom almost anyone reading will most likely identify with. It’s a tough job, and I think Molnar has shown with this issue that he has the potential to only get better. At times, the Enterprise also felt vacant. If you watch the show, the ship is packed with crew members mulling about in every corridor, but that vibe was missing here.

Molnar does employ a skill I wish more comic artists would entertain; when a character is in a panel, but not talking, they’re still doing something as if they have a reason to be there. For example, after crew member Gary gets possessed by some sort of raw energy and literally becomes starry-eyed, Kirk is talking to him as Bones is nonchalantly scanning him without being noticed. You can see Kirk and Bones are playing off each other, like they do so often in the show. Molnar also adds lively detail to the environment of the ship, making it not look like a 1960s set, yet still managing to keep things simple like in the T.V. series. His transitions are well done, too; they’re like the suspended moments of an episode before a commercial break, only here there are no commercials as there’s not a single ad until the end. There’s a beautiful splash page in the beginning of the book that’s reminiscent of the opening credits any Trek fan can geek out on.

Star Trek #1 variant cover

Let me be clear that I don’t claim to be a Star Trek expert. Far from it. I’m new to the ‘Trek franchise. My Star Trek experience is limited to a very recent watching of the first 23 episodes of the original series (and counting), plus some episodes of The Next Generation throughout the last two decades. I’ve seen a handful of the movies, but not more than once. To be blunt- I used to loathe Star Trek. I was a Star Wars guy through and through, wanting nothing to do with Klingons and Vulcans. However, this past spring my wife begged me to watch the 2009 movie, simply titled Star Trek.

“No way,” I said. “Stark Trek sucks. It’s boring, ridiculous in execution, and there’s no way it will hold my attention. Give me lightsabers and Star Destroyers, baby.”

“But it’s a good movie. I think you’ll really like it,” my wife said.

“Fine. I’ll watch it.”

And holy hell did I love it! That one movie got me hooked on Star Trek! Immediately after watching the film, we began watching every episode of the original series. Now, I’m all about Star Trek and Star Wars can take a back seat. What is most appealing to me about Star Trek, which is a key missing element in Star Wars, is how it’s the evolution of mankind and takes place in our Universe, as opposed to in a galaxy far, far away with a bunch of random aliens. Being a science nerd and a humanist, this holds great appeal to me. How far can man push himself in the exploration of the great unknown? What is at the edge of the Universe? How cunning is the race of man when pitted against those who have lived for eons amongst the stars? These are the ideas Star Trek explores and it’s because of these ideas that I’m so invested in the franchise. It’s much more thought provoking than Star Wars.

So when I learned that this comic series would feature the new crew in the situations of the old one, and that Roberto Orci (the executive producer of the 2009 Star Trek movie) was on board as a creative consultant, this title became a must read.

Crew member Gary before gaining his new abilities, sits in front of Captain Kirk.

Gary has the power!

The force field which causes problems for the Enterprise as seen in the show. You can see it in the splash page featured above.

Initially I thought this series would be a bunch of one-shot stories per episode. That’s not the case as this one is “to be continued” and only makes it about 20 minutes into the original episode. I’m glad the creators are taking more time with the stories, but I hope they don’t drag out too long. Two to three issues per episode should do the trick, and they have plenty to build on here.

If you’re a fan of the 2009 movie or a die-hard Trekker, do not miss this issue. The first printing is already sold out, so if you didn’t get it yet, a 2nd print should be on its way soon. One day, I hope to read this issue in space. That would be amazing.

Andy Liegl



  1. Hmmm…I was on the fence about this one but it looks like I need to give it a shot.

  2. Moses

    I’ll have to pick up these once they collect them in TPB. It sure looks good.
    I’m glad your turning into a Trek fan now. I’ve always been a fan and never understood the wide appeal of Star Wars.
    I’d encourage you to watch Next Generation on Netflix. You may have to grit and bear the first two seasons, but then it really gets good. Deep Space Nine, available on Netflix in October, is even better. I think it’s the best Star Trek show there is. It’s in my top five of Science Fiction TV series.

  3. Chet LaPrice

    Well, it’s exciting to see Star Trek as a monthly title again for the first time in about 15 years. But…we’re going to redo the TOS episodes now? Those stories have already been told, and you would be hard-pressed to improve them. (Well, maybe “Spock’s Brain,” but why would you want to?) Mitchell should have been introduced to us in the movie. He and Kirk were best friends from their first days at the Academy, and served together for years on the Republic, Farragut, and–for a year–on Enterprise.
    Reboot or prequel or whatever, we’re now just rehashing what came before without taking the opportunity to flesh-out these characters. That was the genius of DC Comics when they were publishing Trek back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
    And it looks as though Kirk and his fellow cadets are still running around with the Enterprise. Where’s Captain April again? 🙂

  4. @Moses Thanks for welcoming me into the fold! As silly as it sounds, I just don’t think I was mature enough to “get” Star Trek as a kid. Now I can’t get enough! I’m really looking forward to TNG. I remember fragments of specific episodes, and how much I despised it as a kid, which means I’m probably going to love it now! DS9 I’ve heard mixed things about. Should I keep going after that? Most people slam Enterprise.

    @Chet I understand your position, but I’d really be interested in getting your opinion on this issue. I’m a newbie, and currently watching the TOS for the first time, so I’m geeking out on it pretty hard. I think it’s a good move to maybe revitalize the old series- get younger viewers to give it a chance with this new comic. That’s how I approached this review. Read the book, watch the episode. They go great together! …and who’s Captain April?

  5. Moses

    @Andy – Deep Space Nine is much darker and the stories have much more at stake. Also, the character development is much deeper and the characters were much better written. After season 2, DS9 takes a much more serial approach to stories as well. TNG was awesome in making Star Trek something not of the 60s, but DS9 made Star Trek much more real and less utopia (like TNG). Ron D Moore, of the Re-Imagined Battlestar Galactica, wrote and produced many of DS9 episodes. If you’ve seen Battlestar and liked that, you’ll like DS9. Voyager was good, a lot like TNG. I’ve not watch much of Enterprise. No opinion on that.

    Nevertheless, I’d encourage you to watch it all. It’s all on Netflix now, save DS9 (available in October).

  6. Chet

    @ Andy: “Who is Captain April?” Your question speaks volumes. It is regrettable that the newer Trek fans never got to experience the literary “Golden Age” of the franchise, from 1981 to about 1996. Most of that work was largely ignored with each subsequent “reboot.” Prior to 1987, the only sources of new Star Trek material on a regular basis were the Pocket Books novels and DC comic books. Hundreds of titles, many convoluted plots, several contradictions…and more than a few mediocre storylines, to be sure.

    But sifting through for the good stuff, one found pure gold. Wonderful, creative literature that expanded the boundaries of what was already established, while telling bold, NEW stories and fleshing-out the characters that we thought we already knew so well. My generation is so critical about this because we grew up with the bar set realy, really high…examples:

    The definitive volume on Klingon culture is The Final Reflection. John M. Ford really penned a masterpiece here, taking place a generation before Kirk’s time. Before the spiney-headed versions werei ntroduced, this race behaved much more differently: Kor, Kang, and Koloth never growled. Ford’s other novel, How Much for Just the Planet?, is one of the most unusual (and genuinely funny) Trek novels ever written.

    Diane Duane penned the “bible” on not only the planet Vulcan (Spock’s World), but also the race that we call Romulans (The Romulan Way). While you’re at it, also read My Enemy, My Ally, The Wounded Sky, and Doctor’s Orders. During the eighties, Duane was the “it” Star Trek writer.

    Did you know that Spock had a son? A.C. Crispin tells the tale in Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday, sequels to the TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays.”

    One of the real missed opportunities of the original cast was a movie revisiting the Mirror Universe. Mike Barr took us there and back in the New Frontiers saga, published by DC Comics.

    Barr also penned the tale of the beginning of the historic 5-year mission. Kirk is promoted to captain and appoints long-time friend Gary Mitchell his XO. Kirk meets Spock, his taciturn science officer who is reluctant to see Captain Pike go. This has since been re-told, but not as well. An inspiring tale and Barr got all the little things exactly right. DC Comics Star Trek Annual #1, published in 1985.

    Then, there was Peter David. Peter David is widely regarded as Star Trek’s most prolific writer, and some of his finest works breathed new life into The Original Series at a time when Next Generation was all the rage. He intuitively fleshed-out familiar characters in creative ways that never felt forced or ret-conned. In addition to his outstanding TNG novels, David penned the DC comic book from 1988-1991: the best years of the title. Read “Once a Hero” (May 91) to get to know the guy in the red shirt. “Retrospect” (1988 Annual) for a wonderful backstory on Scotty–It’s impossible not to be deeply moved as you read. And most of all: “Starfleet Academy,” (1991 Annual) the quintessential tale of Kirk’s first days there. We saw what J.J. Abrams left out: Kirk meeting Gary Mitchell, Finnegan, and, most importantly, Carol Marcus. I think this is why I was most disappointed in the 2009 movie: all of this had already been told—and told much more adeptly.

    Finally, read Diane Carey’s Final Frontier. Diane Carey details the first-ever voyage of the USS Enterprise. Who is Captain April? Robert April was the original captain of the Enterprise. His good friend, George Samuel Kirk, was his first officer. Kirk and his wife, Winona, have two sons: George Samuel, Jr., and James Tiberius.

    These well-written tales fleshed-out the identity of the characters we came to know so well. Plot synopses can be found on-line. Some digging at comic shops and used book stores, and you’ll find actual titles. Some are finally being republished.

    My point: why keep retelling new versions of the original episodes when you can write all new material? As you can see, it has been done.

    Happy reading.

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