Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation Omnibus review (Unread 013)

IDW Publishing, the current comic book publisher which holds the rights to Star Trek comics has put together a few archive collections of Star Trek comics previously published by other companies. They’ve also put together omnibus editions that collect multiple mini-series that were first published by IDW. It’s a good publishing strategy as mini-series are often overlooked by regular comic book readers and considering that most of IDW’s Star Trek output has been in this format it makes sense to give those minis a wider audience. Since the omnibus collections contain multiple mini-series at a more affordable price, it’s most likely the favoured choice of potential buyers. That’s why I bought this volume. The page per dollar ratio makes it worthwhile purchase. This volume focuses on stories set in The Next Generation series. Four miniseries are collected together. The first of which is The Space Between.

The Space Between
Written by David Tischman
Art by Casey Maloney
Additional Inks by Stacie Ponder and Aaron Leach
Colors by Leonard O’Grady
Letters by Robbie Robbins, Chris Mowry, and Neil Uyetake
Edited by Dan Taylor

Originally published as a six issue mini-series, The Space Between collects six done-in-one stories that take place during various time periods of the original 7 seasons of TNG. Each of the six issues follows the format of the TV series. Some of them even have an A plot and a B plot. Each story is neatly wrapped in by the end of each issue. Naturally, considering the length of an average issue is roughly 20 t0 24 pages, these stories are very compressed. They only take a few minutes each to read and so the scope of the stories tends to be pretty small scale.

The creative team uses the format to highlight some of the advantages of this approach. One of the best aspects of this series is that you get to see the entire main cast and the recurring characters come into play. Tasha Yarr, Ro Laren, and Wesley Crusher all appear throughout these issues. Not only are those recurring characters mixed together with the main officers of the bridge, each issue focuses on a different combination of characters.

There is an overarching mystery tying these six stories (very loosely) together. It’s actually not really worth it since the mystery itself is underwhelming and doesn’t bring the mini-series to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, as the title suggests, this is more of a collection of short stories all of which take place between various episodes of TNG. The fact that they do so is pleasant as the writers adds a few characterization flourishes, using the B plots as character vignettes which highlight specific aspects of the crewmembers’ personalities. There is very little depth overall but if you’re looking for quick, short stories featuring a familiar environment (the Enterprise) and characters; The Space Between will do just fine.

Intelligence Gathering
Written by Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Art by David Messina
Art Assist by Mirco Pierfederici, Gianluigi Gregorini, and Sara Pichelli
Colors by Illaria Traversi
Letters by Neil Uyetake and Chris Mowry
Edited by Andrew Steven Harris and Denton J. Tipton

The structure of Intelligence Gathering is eerily similar to the one from The Space Between. Each issue tells a standalone story and each issue add to some of the events that took place in the previous story. This all comes together in the final issue where the mystery is revealed. Unfortunately, it’s lame as shit. An enemy of the Federation finds a dimensional anomaly and they slowly guide the Entreprise to them to assist in the handling of the anomaly. The whole thing is pretty dumb. First off, do we really need another story that centers around a time/space/parallel dimension/whatever anomaly? Second of all, if somebody wanted the help of Picard they could just ask. Picard even says so on the last page “Next time, Commander, you might simply ask for assistance?”

The good moments here have to do with the individual stories in each issue but they have the same problem as those in The Space Between: there just aren’t enough pages to tell a really satisfying Star Trek story in a single comic book issue. That doesn’t mean these issues are all bad. I enjoyed some of them, but they’re so quick that you barely have time to get invested into the story before it concludes.

What is interesting though is that comic books seem really well suited to the kind of sequential story that Star Trek can be really good at. It’s the sort of storytelling that was essentially nonexistent with The Original Series and The Next Generation (they mostly have done-in-one stories that rarely carried over to future episodes). Sequential stories (episodes that build on each other and have subplots that last for several episodes and sometimes season long) are the kind of storytelling that is very common in today’s TV landscape. Comics can give you the length of story required to have multiple subplots building at the same time and give you enough room for character development. Think of the X-men comics when penned by Chris Claremont or even Justice League International by J. M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire.

It’s ultimately disappointing but the ride was fun enough that I was never bored. It was a little odd that the female members of the senior officers are missing for most of the story. Deanna and Dr. Crusher only show up towards the end and they don’t have much to do.

The Last Generation
Written by Andrew Steven Harris
Art by Gordon Purcell
Inks by Bob Almond with Gordon Purcell and Terry Pallot
Colors by Mario Boon and John Hunt
Letters by Robbie Robbins, Chris Mowry, and Neil Uyetake
Edited by Andy Schmidt and Scott Dunbier

The Last Generation is a What If type of story. It’s pretty neat. It’s not expertly plotted or even particularly well thought out, but that doesn’t matter because this story was action based and fun.

When James T. Kirk fails to prevent the assassination of the Federation President during the events of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, the entire history of Star Trek as we know it changed. Roughly 70 years later, during the time of The Next Generation, an alternate history Picard is leading a rebellion against the Klingon who had just recently invaded Earth. Picard and his forces, many of whom are characters from TNG (though how their lives have all come to pass and how they’re all working together is a mystery to me), battle against Klingon warlord Worf for control of Earth. Everything changes when a familiar face commanding the USS Excelsior informs the rebels that Time has been altered and they’re the only ones who can fix it.

Being an alternate history story, it’s designed to put familiar Star Trek characters in an unfamiliar situation. It’s an excuse to see well-loved characters battling it out against each other with the fate of the “real” history hanging in the balance. Oddly enough, characterizations are both the weak point and the strong point of this story. I really like what was done with Captain Sulu, Worf, and even Data, but I dislike basically everyone else. There are some nice moments with alternate versions of Worf and Data but the rest doesn’t warrant a special mention.

Ultimately, this kind of story doesn’t hold up beyond the initial enjoyment of reading it for the first time. The attraction is seeing the character in unfamiliar situations and having different character dynamics. The problem that often occurs is that a character is so far removed from what they are in the regular series that they’re no longer recognizable as the same character or the characters are so similar that nothing has really changed. What If stories are meant to be short lived because once the initial effects of destabilization have subsided; you end up with a story that isn’t nearly as satisfying as the original work it’s based on. Picard works really well as a diplomat, as a military strategist, a fan of classical literature, and amateur archaeologist. He doesn’t work nearly as well when he’s portrayed as the leader of a rebellion against the Klingon Empire. Most everybody in this comic doesn’t work well in their grittier characterization, but the story was fun while it lasted.

Written by Zander Cannon
Art by Javier Aranda
Inks by German Torres-Ruiz and Marc Rueda
Colors by John Hunt
Letters by Robbie Robbins and Neil Uyetake
Edited by Scott Dunbier

This story more closely resembles a typical episode of TNG. At least, more so than any of the preceding mini-series collected in this volume. First of all, there is a clear A plot and a B plot. They are, of course, tied together by the final issue. Unlike the A and B plots of The Space Between, the story in Ghosts has room to breathe.

The Enterprise intercepts a distress signal from a nearby planet. They arrive to assist the vessel that sent out the call. One of the two warring nations of the planet which the Enterprise is orbiting requests that Picard and his crew leave. They do not want the Federation to intervene, even though the nation in question has made requests to join the Federation. A request that has been pending for over a decade since the Federation only accepts planets, not nations. The story splits into two parts. Some of the senior officers are investigating the hostilities between the warring nations in an effort to resolve their problems. Some of the other officers, specifically Dr. Crusher, Troi, and La Forge, make efforts to untangle the mysteries surround the distressed ship’s malfunction and try to heal the physical and mental wounds of the ship’s sole survivor.

It read and feels like a long episode. There are more panels and more speech bubbles per page than any of the three previous stories. It’s not an action adventure story, it’s a Star Trek story about (fictional) science, diplomacy, and race relations. Ghosts also showcases TNG’s crew’s distinct personalities and areas of expertise more efficiently than any of the previous stories.

As a whole, this omnibus delivered what I was expecting. None of these stories are great, but they’re all enjoyable. One of them is good (Ghosts) and the rest are, at the least, fun and entertaining. It’s hard to complain though because the price is a big draw for this kind of format. I wasn’t blow away by what I found in these pages but it wasn’t a disappointment either. It left me wanting to watch or read more TNG stories. I would consider that a success when discussing tie-in media. 

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