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