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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #59-61 – Children of Chaos/Mother of Madness/Brothers in Darkness (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Battle.

Continuity is a funny thing. Star Trek: The Next Generation would develop its own internal continuity as it went along. The  episodes featuring the Klingons and the Romulans (and the Borg) all fit together in a somewhat logical and progressive pattern, even if the show lacked the clear story arc structure of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While the show did offer background information on the members of the Enterprise crew, it never felt particularly beholden to them.

Picard’s time commanding the Stargazer was one of the earliest parts of his history to be established, in the first season episode The Battle. Picard’s tenure on the ship is alluded to several times over the course of the series, and there’s a sense that it was a formative experience for the commander. While it’s never stated outright, it’s suggested that the death of Jack Crusher and the loss of the Stargazer may have turned him into the somewhat aloof and distant superior we met in Encounter at Farpoint.

The slingshot manoeuvre...

The slingshot manoeuvre…

And yet, despite that, The Next Generation never delves too deeply into Picard’s past. There’s the occasional reference to his time serving on the Stargazer, or a reminder of his complicated relationship with Wesley and Beverly Crusher, but The Next Generation is a television show that seems to move forwards. Even the events that happen to Picard in the context of the show – his abduction by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds or his alternate life in The Inner Light – don’t seem to have affected Picard too much.

So it seems appropriate that this bit of future history should become fodder for the comic books and tie-in materials, delving mroe deeply into the history of The Next Generation than was possible (or even desired) on screen.

Stargazing...

Stargazing…

Mainstream American comic books have a strange approach towards continuity. There’s a sense that current contemporary comics are somehow validated by obscure references to past events – that readers are inherently excited to see a familiar character or concept revisited or revised, or that absolutely everything has to fit together in one gigantic mosaic pattern. There’s the strange assumption in some quarters of fandom that every Batman story ever must fit into the life of one fictional character.

Continuity is something of a divisive issue in mainstream comics. DC Comics famously organised Crisis on Infinite Earths in the late eighties as a way to clear away an overly-convoluted history and back story for its fictional universe and characters. Of course, not all characters had their histories revised, so continuity quickly became a mess again, as readers tried to fit the history of rebooted characters like Superman with characters carrying more baggage like Hawkman or Power Girl. DC attempted the same thing with Flashpoint in 2011, and the “New 52” quickly accrued the same sort of problems.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

It seems like continuity is a concern in all manner of geek-friendly franchises and films. There’s a sense that too much history or continuity can lock a person out of a story, or impede a storyteller’s ability to construct a narrative. In the past couple of years, Hollywood has been quick to “reboot” properties for the modern era, wiping away what came before and replacing it with a brand new model. Batman Begins wiped the slate clean after the Burton and Schumacher Batman films. Man of Steel finally broke from the template set down by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies.

This concept of wiping away what came before has spread to the mainstream. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprisingly well-constructed blockbuster in 2011. Even Jack Ryan will get a younger and more modern reimagining in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. On television, shows like Battlestar Galactica and V dared to go back to the beginning and offer new takes on classic concepts.

A commanding presence...

A commanding presence…

This is, of course, exactly what happened to Star Trek with the relaunch in 2009. While the writers tried to create the best of both worlds by blending the script into a weird hybrid of a reboot and a prequel – assuring viewers that everything that had happened before was valid and still happened, but was more-or-less completely irrelevant. One of the key features of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek was the idea that you did not need to be a Star Trek fan in order to enjoy the film.

However, that principle was in play even in nineties television. The Next Generation was never really too firmly tied to the continuity of the classic Star Trek, to help keep it accessible. One imagines that one of the reasons that Star Trek: Voyager remained mostly episodic – despite its serialisation-friendly premise – was in order to remain accessible. The goal of television in the nineties was to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. You want audience members to be able to jump in at any point. This probably explains why The Next Generation and Voyager tend to be more popular in syndication that Deep Space Nine.

Beaming with excitement...

Beaming with excitement…

That isn’t really a concern with comic books and novels. While one suspects editors would be quite happy to reel in neophytes, most people picking up a Star Trek comic or novel will be relatively familiar with the brand. As such, there isn’t the same fear of alienating them. You could probably even argue that the people reading the comics or the novels are more likely to be interested in exploring the continuity of the show.

Even then, there are times when the continuity seems to get a bit much. Michael Jan Friedman was quite fond of wandering into fan service with his Next Generation comics and novels – referencing all sorts of trivial continuity matters and expanding on all manner of Star Trek minutiae. Children of Chaos is perhaps the one of the strangest examples. It’s the first issue in three-part story arc, and a significant part of the issue is devoted to an adventure Picard had on Chalna while he commanded the Stargazer.

Making a stand...

Making a stand…

It’s a very weird set-up. On the one hand, it’s cool to spend time on the Stargazer and to get a glimpse at a younger Picard – one who seems a little more reckless and fun-loving. However, it all feels a bit gratuitous. The flashback gets the cover of the issue, but it doesn’t even take up the complete page-count. Instead, it serves as both the expansion of a passing remark that Picard made in Allegiance and as a prelude to the rest of the three-issue arc.

The problem is that it all fields a bit superfluous. There’s a fleeting reference to Picard’s history with the menacing aliens of the arc, but no real dramatic set-up and pay-off. There’s no reason why the story needed that flashback, beyond the assumption that flashbacks are inherently cool. A monthly comic series has a lot more freedom, especially following the departure of Richard Arnold, than the television show. It’s not constrained by the budget of the show, the demands of the actors, or even same commercial constraints as broadcast television.

Yes, it's the aliens who appeared briefly in Allegiance...

Yes, it’s the aliens who appeared briefly in Allegiance…

Being written for a more die-hard audience, there’s the opportunity to push things a little bit further and explore things in a bit more depth. Friedman could easily have constructed a simple one-issue throwback without tying half-heartedly to a three-issue story. Within that story, he could explored Picard’s history and motivations, how the character has changed in the years since he stood on the bridge of the Stargazer. Barring the sense that Picard was a little more reckless in his youth, there’s no real insight in Children of Chaos.

It feels like continuity for the sake of continuity, using the show’s history to provide the illusion of depth and nuance without actually doing anything remotely ambitious.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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