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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #1-2 – Return to Raimon/Murder, Most Foul (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.

DC Comics’ limited six-issue tie-in to the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation might have made an interesting read, but it was a success for the company. It was such a success that the company decided to launch an on-going monthly series tying into Star Trek: The Next Generation. It launched in October 1989, just as the show’s third season was starting on television. It continued throughout the show’s run, wrapping up eighty issues later in February 1996, when Marvel bought the license.

For the bulk of its run, The Next Generation was written by Michael Jan Friedman. Barring a couple of fill-ins scattered across the six-and-a-half year run, Friedman churned out monthly stories with remarkable consistency. Indeed, DC’s second volume of Next Generation would be the most consistent comic book tie-in published during any of the spin-off shows, with the licence for the franchise bouncing around Marvel, Malibu, Wildstorm and IDW in the late nineties and early years of the twenty-first century.

There’s something strangely appropriate about publishing Return to Raimon in tandem with the launch of The Next Generation‘s third season. The third season of The Next Generation is generally regarded as the point where the show really came of age, and the season that laid the foundation for that entire generation of Star Trek spin-offs. It was the point at which the vision of Star Trek proposed by The Next Generation finally came into its own, so it seems fitting that it’s also the point at which one of the franchise’s most consistent and long-running tie-ins begins.

New worlds...

New worlds…

It’s worth noting that The Next Generation comic was a resound success as tie-in comics go. Not only did DC manage to keep a singular creative vision working on the comic, the book sold well enough to out-live its source material. Not only was Michael Jan Friedman writing The Next Generation tie-in comics after All Good Things… aired, he was writing them after the Enterprise had come crashing down in Star Trek: Generations.

While the classic Star Trek series launched at the same time managed to run for the same number of issues, DC could not maintain a consistent creative team. Veteran comics writer (and Star Trek novel scribe) Peter David had launched the series, but he departed quite quickly following creative disagreements with Richard Arnold. In contrast, Friedman remains on The Next Generation through to the end of the series.

This diplomatic mission really went amok...

This diplomatic mission really went amok…

And the on-going series has the advantage of being produced after people have seen the show. Indeed, the October 1989 launch means that Friedman and artist Pablo Marcos have have seen most (if not all) of the show’s first two seasons. So it won’t feel quite as surreal as the six-issue miniseries constructed after a brief tour of the sets and perusal of the series bible. Friedman knows the cast of characters and Marcos has seen the Enterprise in action, even if there are occasional obvious art errors like the curious arrangement of the transporter room.

(That said, the series is still a little behind the times. Return to Raimon features Doctor Katherine Pulaski, who had departed the show at the end of the second season when actress Diana Muldaur decided not to return. The uniforms are also clearly patterned on the variants worn during the first two seasons. At the same time, this series looks a lot more like Star Trek: The Next Generation than the six-issue limited series released to coincide with the first season of The Next Generation.)

A beautiful woman catches Picard's (Star)gaze(r)...

A beautiful woman catches Picard’s (Star)gaze(r)…

Of course, there is a slight problem with the idea of a long-running on-going comic based on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Quite frankly, The Next Generation is not a television show that really lends itself to a comic book tie-in. While James T. Kirk was frequently getting involved in skirmishes and brawls, Picard preferred to resolve situations by talking and negotiating. Which is pretty great, but it’s not something that mainstream American comic books are used to portraying.

And you get a sense that Friedman is aware of this problem – that Picard really isn’t a comic book protagonist in the same way as Kirk might have been. So there’s a rather awkward introductory sequence where Riker and Picard have a conversation about how the plot of the comic is going to go against the grain established in the first two years of the show. Not only will Picard lead the away team, but he’ll also be cutting loose a bit. Riker refers to Picard’s last visit as “memorable”, while Picard explains, “Let’s just say that I embraced the spirit of the place, and established a good rapport with the royal family.”

A smashing time...

A smashing time…

(Indeed, Picard promptly gets involved in sordid palace politics with a hint of interstellar romance while Riker gets involved in a fight to the death with the natives. There’s a short little sequence where Geordi and some other officers (including Wesley) point out that Picard seems a lot more relaxed and energetic than we’ve come to expect. “I guess that blows his image of a crusty, old curmudgeon,” Geordi reflects, when Picard expresses a (slightly creepy) fondness for the youngest daughter of the royal family.)

To be fair, Friedman is doing what he can here. It’s very hard to imagine The Next Generation working as a monthly comic in the same way that it worked on television. He is writing for a different medium and a slightly different genre, so the decision to alter the mood slightly is a pragmatic approach to the job. Besides, there’s something quite enjoyable about seeing Picard riding horses across alien planets and seeing Riker get involved in alien death matches – it’s the kind of thing the show’s budget would never stretch to, but it also plays to a pulpy science-fiction sensibility that The Next Generation tended to avoid.

Oh, Picard, you romantic!

Oh, Picard, you romantic!

That said, it does seem a little awkward when Friedman inserts a little subplot about how hyper-evolved 24th century characters must be. One of Friedman’s junior officer guest stars spends the arc lamenting that he will never be the same kind of action hero as Worf. His partner tries to assure him that it doesn’t matter. Brute strength isn’t something that’s expected in this bright and beautiful future.

“You don’t have to be like your silly ancestors,” she assures him. “This is the twenty-fourth century — there’s no need for swaggering, so-called swashbucklers anymore! What we need are man like you — brilliant men. Men who can be sensitive and charming and wonderful.” It’s a nice thought, and it plays quite well to the philosophy of The Next Generation. However, it’s also very hard to take seriously when the arc sees both Picard and Riker cast in the role of “swaggering, so-called swashbucklers.”

The next (trans)port of call...

The next (trans)port of call…

This was, perhaps, one of the limitations of Friedman’s work on the comic. He had a tendency to write big dramatic action sequences and to craft deep space action thrillers. That’s a perfectly valid subgenre of Star Trek, and the budget-less  pages of a comic book are arguably the best place for that sort of storytelling. At the same time, it doesn’t seem particular ambitious, and it doesn’t seem like it channels the core spirit of The Next Generation.

(As an aside, eagle-eyed readers will spot Friedman’s fascination with Picard’s back story here. Picard, we’re told, visited Raimon while commanding the Stargazer. The ship itself shows up briefly as a trinket. Friedman would become quite enamoured with the ship and with Picard’s history. He would offer a glimpse of Picard’s command in several stories – including the novel Reunion and the comic Children of Chaos – before writing the story of how Picard assumed command of the ship in The Valiant and launching his tie-in series of Stargazer books.)

In the neck of time?

In the neck of time?

Friedman deserves an incredible amount of respect for the consistency of his contributions to the comic. However, the tie-in comic does feel a bit of a wasted opportunity, never really hitting the heights of the more ambitious classic Star Trek comics that DC published during the eighties and into the nineties. It was reliable, and consistent, and professional. However, the flip-side was that it rarely felt exceptional.

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

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