Monday, December 5, 2011

Dust off the Panels: Star Trek Omnibus Volume 1

To Boldly Be Licensed Multiple Times!
Written by Various Writers, including Mike W. Barr, Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Dennis O'Neil, and Marv Wolfman
Illustrated by Various Artists, including Dave Cockrum, Gil Kane, and Klaus Janson
IDW (originally Marvel)

Space may be the final frontier, but the comics frontier is endless!  Join the crew of the original series just after the first movie as Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Scotty, and the rest explore their universe with the help of whoever was around the Marvel Bullpen at the time!  Read the entire run of the original stories developed for Star Trek by Marvel Comics in this omnibus by current Star Trek publisher IDW.

I'm not a huge science fiction person, but I absolutely love Star Trek.  It is one of the few television series where I've actually read the licensed properties and the only one (so far) where I've wanted to keep reading them.  Original series Star Trek might just qualify as my favorite television show, given how many times I've re-watched the episodes.  Interestingly enough, however, this is my first time ever reading the comics.  Given that some of my favorite writers (including Peter David) have worked on the comics over the years, this really surprises me.  At any rate, it was high time to sample and this was just starting at me from the library shelf, asking to come home with me.  (Perhaps it did a Vulcan mind meld.)

So what did I think of Trek transformed into a comic?  Overall, I was happy with the results.  They are definitely true to the feel of the original series, sometimes even echoing plots we saw on the television show.  There's definitely a strong thematic link between the two, which I think is important when you are working on a licensed property.  The same conflicts between saving people and following the Prime Directive come up, difficult choices are a matter of course, and the bonds of trust developed between the core crew members shine through here in page after page.  Any one of these comics could easily be adapted to television and not lose anything in the translation.  The authors generally even get the closing scenes right, ending with a wry joke or a serious commentary on the events of the issue.  I'm happy to see that no attempt was made to Marvel-ize them, giving them additional hangups or problems beyond those already established.  We do get some continued stories, but interestingly enough, these issues could be read in just about any order without disrupting continuity.  That might be taking the television format a bit too far, actually.  It would have been nice to see some layering, but perhaps I'm just too used to serial comics.

The writing changes radically from person to person, but that was also true on the original television show.  Wolfman goes for horror, Barr writes a mystery (ala Batman), and DeMatteis is extremely philosophical.  Tom DeFalco's story is a bit stranger than I'm used to from him, involving more complex sci fi issues than I'd expect from the writer of "ho-ha" fun.  Martin Pasko writes the bulk of the series, and his are okay but show that he's not a Marvel regular.  His comics read very much like comics, if that makes any sense.  There's a lot of the 1970s DC tics of explaining everything in narrative boxes.  He does, however, have one of the best Shaggy Dog stories I've ever read in comics, with Scotty as the protagonist of the joke.  I also liked a lot of the conflict and grey morality that Pasko builds into his stories.  With a bit more editing, they could have been the highlight of the book.

Where the series breaks down quite a bit, though not enough to disrupt a fan's enjoyment, is in the multiple artists.  Klaus Janson wrecks the comics he's involved in, flattening the art and making some scenes almost indecipherable.  He was about the worst choice to work with Cockrum.  Gil Kane is usually an amazing artist, but his work here is not his best, aliens aside.  Just about every artist struggled with the likenesses, with Shatner often looking like an older Peter Parker.  Most of the artwork is muddied, which I think is partly due to the difficulty in reproducing comics people did not expect to be permanent.  Some scenes lose their impact because it's distracting to notice just how off-model the characters are.  Worst by far is the coloring, however, which has no consistency from issue to issue.  The uniforms seem to change at will, with no explanation, sometimes following the movie and sometimes the old show and sometimes changing in the same issue!  Honestly, the editing here on the art is quite poor, reflecting badly on Louise Simonson, Al Milgrom and Dennis O'Neil.  I'm sure there's a reason, as all three are normally better than this.

While I wouldn't recommend the first Star Trek omnibus to a casual fan of the series, I think it's an excellent pick up for those of us who are still willing to sit for hours and discuss the evolution of Spock's characterization or how inconsistent Kirk is with the Prime Directive.  These are good Star Trek stories, even if the art sometimes gets in the way.  Any Trek fan really should track this one down, as any quality additions to the series are well worth it.  The first Star Trek omnibus definitely qualifies.

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