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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1989) #1-12 – The Trial of James T. Kirk! (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

The late eighties and early nineties saw a change in the world of Star Trek tie-ins. During the eighties, tie-in writers had typically been afforded a great deal of freedom in telling their stories – allowed to explore the fringes of the Star Trek universe with little regard to how things matched up. The period saw a number of truly spectacular Star Trek tie-ins that count among the best work ever released with the Star Trek brand on it – John Ford’s The Final Reflection or Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally.

However, with the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the broadcast of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was a shift in how the franchise approached tie-in novels and comic books. Gene Roddenberry had arguably lost control of his creation, with the Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer taking control of the feature films while Rick Berman and Michael Piller were the driving creative forces on the television show.

Crossing swords...

Crossing swords…

As such, the tie-ins became a place where Roddenberry and his “people” – including Richard Arnold and Susan Sackett – could make their influence most heavily felt. So, in the late eighties and early nineties, a conscious effort was made to re-tool the novels and the comic book tie-ins, with Richard Arnold maintaining a much tighter grip on the reigns. DC’s first volume of Star Trek comics was cancelled after fifty-six issues, and another volume was launched to coincide with the launch of the Next Generation comic.

Writer Peter David had closed out the first volume of the Star Trek comic, and was drafted in as the writer of the new on-going series. However, he almost immediately came into conflict with Richard Arnold. Pages of the first issue had to be hastily re-drawn when Richard Arnold vetoed the use of a supporting character from Star Trek: The Animated Seriesafter the comic had been drawn. In many respects, this set the tone for the comic, which was victim to all sorts of weird editorial mandates.

The Andorian Incident...

The Andorian Incident…

While writer Michael Jan Friedman remained the writer on the on-going Next Generation comic for most of its run – only occasionally getting another writer to fill in – Peter David departed the Star Trek comic before the end of the book’s second year on the stand. This is especially frustrating when one considers the pedigree of Peter David. An accomplished novelist and comic book writer, David had a wealth of experience in the medium that was being maliciously squandered by Arnold.

It’s a shame, because the opening twelve issues of DC’s second volume of Star Trek make for a delightful read and a fitting substitute for a live-action Star Trek television show unfolding between the movies.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (DC Comics, 1989) (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

In many respects, the late eighties represented a changing of the guard when it came to Star Trek. The feature films had been relatively serialised. The events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan led into the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which itself led directly into the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. At the same time, the expanded universe was generally left free to its own devices. Novelists and writers were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted.

In the late eighties, things changed. Directed by William Shatner, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier stood quite clearly apart from the events of the last three Star Trek films. At the same time, the franchise had found its way back to weekly television in the form of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Whereas comic books and novels had served to fill a gap when there was a scarcity of “official” Star Trek material, they were now very clearly of secondary importance to the “real” (or simply “live action”) versions of Star Trek.

Oh your God...

Oh your God…

There was a rather seismic shift in the nature and tone of tie-ins and adaptations. Rather notably, the creators who had adapted the last couple of films into prose and comic book form did not return to translate The Final Frontier across different media. Vonda McIntyre had written the novelisations of the last three Star Trek films, but was replaced by J.M. Dillard. Mike W. Barr and Tom Sutton had produced the comic book adaptations of the last two Star Trek films, but were replaced by Peter David and James W. Fry. Both Dillard and David would find themselves tasked with adaptation of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Peter David and James W. Fry’s adaptation of The Final Frontier is clearly intended as a launchpad for their new on-going Star Trek series that would debut only a few months later. Indeed, the final page of The Final Frontier includes an advertisement for that new series. In many respects, this adaptation of The Final Frontier seems to serve as a pilot for a new comic book series, a starting point for a bold new beginning to DC’s Star Trek line. Opening with the The Final Frontier, you might be forgiven for assuming it was doomed from the outset.

Here there be rock monsters...

Here there be rock monsters…

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier by J.M. Dillard (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

In many respects, J.M. Dillard is a safe pair of hands.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was released at a point where Star Trek was shifting. Star Trek: The Next Generation had returned the franchise to prime time television after an absence of almost two decades and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home had been an unqualified box office success. Gene Roddenberry was welcome back at Paramount after parting ways following the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even if the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation was already slipping through his fingers.

There was a much tighter editorial approach to tie-ins and to spin-offs. Whereas the writers of the early Pocket Books novels and DC comics had been given considerable freedom, that freedom was being reigned in around the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The monthly comics series was launched with any elements not matching the “on message” approach to the franchise scrubbed out. All the original characters were gone. All the references to Star Trek: The Animated Series were gone.

The shift at Pocket Books was also palpable. Authors were suddenly getting asked to do ridiculous re-writes, or simply having their own material re-written at will. Margaret Wander Bonanno’s much-mangled Music of the Spheres is perhaps the most infamous example, going through several different ghost writers before finally being released as Probe, a book that Bonanno has relentlessly disavowed. Publishing Star Trek tie-ins was more like making sausages than it ever had been before.

So, in this context, it makes sense that author Vonda N. McIntyre would not return to do the novelisation of The Final Frontier. Her adaptations of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were clever and thoughtful stories that built freely off the source material, finding room for asides and tangents that were not possible on film. Her novelisation of The Search for Spock hits the movie’s opening scene almost a third of the way into the book.

As such, McIntyre’s unique style was unlikely to be a comfortable fit for this new tie-in environment. J.M. Dillard, on the other hand, would be.

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) Annual #1 – All Those Years Ago…

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

It’s weird to think that the original cast of Star Trek didn’t get a proper on-screen origin story until JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009. The show produced two pilots – The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before – and even the pilot episode that wound up airing was broadcast as the third episode of the first season. Given the realities of sixties television, it’s probably not too surprising. Rather famously, Gilligan’s Island scrapped its origin story pilot, reworking some of the footage (along with re-shot footage) into a later episode – deciding to skip the story of how everybody got here and just get to the meat of the story.

And you can understand why this approach worked with the original Star Trek. Structurally, the series was a product of its time, largely episodic. Sure, there were recurring alien races and even a few recurring guest stars outside the senior staff, but there was a sense you could jumble the viewing order of most of the episodes up and not notice anything strange.

At the same time, the lack of an origin leaves a vacuum. After all, each of the four following spin-offs opened with a two-hour special about putting the crew together to take their place on the final frontier. In hindsight, having had years to grow old with these characters and watch their friendships (and personalities) deepen and broaden, it occurs to us that we never really say them come together for the first time.

All Those Years Ago... isn’t nearly as elaborate or as sophisticated as Vonda M. McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, but it does hint at a growing curiosity about how the team came to work together.

Second star on the right...

Second star on the right…

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Star Trek – Shadows on the Sun by Michael Jan Friedman (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

It almost feels like sacrilege to fill in the gap left at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The film was such a perfect send-off that picking up a novel directly after the end credits role feels like it might undermine the perfect farewell story for the veteran crew. After all, director Nicholas Meyer suggested that the film was an attempt to capture the spirit of Fukuyama’s “end of history”, representing the “end of history” for the original crew.

Except, of course, it wasn’t the end. In terms of internal Star Trek chronology, episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation had picked up on the later adventures of Scotty and Spock. Star Trek: Voyager would flashback to a Sulu story unfolding concurrently with The Undiscovered Country. Scotty and Chekov would appear in Star Trek: Generations, which would also serve as a disappointing farewell to one James Tiberius Kirk. It seems bitterly appropriate (if far from fair) that Uhura should remain the only major player whose story actually ends with The
Undiscovered Country
.

Still, despite his passing of the torch appearance in Encounter at Farpoint, you could make an argument that The Undiscovered Country was the end of the line for Leonard McCoy more than Kirk or Spock. And, as such, Michael Jan Friedman’s Shadows on the Sun serves as an effective (if flawed) reflection on the way that McCoy’s presence sort of faded from the 24th century spin-offs. startrek-shadowsonthesun

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Star Trek – The Movies (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

It’s interesting how radically different the Star Trek feature films were from the show that spawned them. All were anchored in the classic science-fiction series. Star Trek: The Motion Picture felt like it was heavily influenced by The Changeling. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan obviously drew on Space Seed. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock evoked The Menagerie. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home featured the same plot device (and time travel technique) as Tomorrow is Yesterday. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had Kirk defeating one final god-like being. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had the crew finally make peace with Klingons.

However, they were quite clearly a very different animal from the original television show. Which makes a great deal of sense. After all, there’s a world of difference between a fifty-minute adventure produced for weekly television and a big theatrical event. However, what’s interesting about these changes is that they weren’t necessarily in the direction you might expect. The television show was a collection of episodic adventures, but what’s really striking about the films is that most of them have a reasonably clear serialised arc.

startrek-themotionpicture

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Star Trek Special #2 (DC Comics, 1994) – A Question of Loyalty (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

A Question of Loyalty is essentially a Star Trek character study, comparing and contrasting the two young Vulcan female characters to appear in the film franchise, providing a meeting between Valeris and Saavik, Spock’s two young protegés. The production history of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is interesting, as there were early plans to include Saavik. For a variety of reasons, this didn’t work out and director Nicholas Meyer and his writers decided to cast a new role, Valeris. A Question of Loyalty allows the two characters to come face-to-face, and offers both some character motivation for the under-developed Valeris and a fond farewell for Saavik.

Her ears are tingling...

Her ears are tingling…

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