Partworks are a strange beast. They’ve been around for as long as I can remember and they vary dramatically – some offer incredible value for money while others seem to be produced with the sole purpose of offering very little to the buyer for extortionate sums of money. Either way, they have the potential for being a cash cow for their publishers as early adopters are often drawn into to taking out subscriptions, not wanting to miss an issue or lured by the temptation of lavish “free” gifts.
I have to admit that some have been getting better in recent times. Ignoring the “build a…” type that involves you spending years and a small fortune constructing a minute replica of a car, ship or most recently functional R2-D2 model as these will often leave you with little change from £1,000. Instead there has been a real show of quality, especially for us geeks with a superb series of collections of graphic novels – Marvel, Transformers, an upcoming series covering DC and this one from publisher Eaglemoss, The Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection…
The plan behind the series is to bring together a comprehensive collection of some of the best Star Trek stories that have ever seen print in comic form. No small task as you can imagine and the planning behind this has no doubt been a logistical nightmare. As is clear from the first few volumes IDW Publishing are heavily involved with the collection but the contents presented cover IDW, Marvel, Malibu, DC, Gold Key, the UK strips from TV21 comic… everything that has ever seen print so readers are in for a treat.
Each book is presented in hardback format with the now standard segmented image on the spine, synopsis on the rear and artwork on the front within a generic overall template. Inside the book is printed on very high quality paper stock that reproduces the artwork wonderfully and gives the reader rich, vibrant colours throughout. Kicking off each book is an introduction to the story in question and then the book starts properly in the format it was originally released sans covers. As well as the titular story featured in each book, there is a bonus story which for the early issues is a reprint of a complete issue of one of the Star Trek comics from Gold Key – the first Star Trek comics ever published.
Onto the first volume in the series and it’s an IDW release entitled Countdown. Set in the TNG era but several years after Star Trek: Nemesis, the book is actually a prequel to the 2009 reboot movie and its story has been written by the movie writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Even before I opened the cover to start reading that did leave me more than a little apprehensive as I’m not a fan of the “new” Star Trek but maybe this would be different?
The story follows Ambassador Spock who has now been living on the Romulan homeworld for several years. He has discovered an anomaly in space that has been engulfing worlds, destroying them and it is on course to not only destroy a large portion of the galaxy if it goes unstopped but for him personally his new adopted home of Romulus. In deep space, a miner and his small crew have also encountered the strange object and head home to try to convince the leaders of the Romulan Empire that something should be done. His name? Nero.
Spock and Nero meet and despite getting nowhere with the high council, Spock tells Nero that there might be a chance back on Vulcan. The two work together, enlisting the help of the Federation including Ambassador Picard, Captain Data (I’ll come onto this shortly) and other former TNG characters. Twists and turns ensue until eventually Romulus meets a deadly end as it’s destroyed by the approaching supernova. Blaming Spock, Nero now seeks revenge but is eventually stopped but not without consequence as he and Spock are hurled through a black hole into the unknown.
This was actually a first for me. Until this point I hadn’t actually read any of the Star Trek titles published by IDW. Because of the sheer volume of titles released over the years I’d generally shied away from buying comics for some time and having no real love for the new movies didn’t really start me on the best footing for reading this one. However, I genuinely loved the whole story from start to finish. It certainly helped to explain a large part of what felt to be a rushed, messy plot in the movie and fleshed out the main antagonist (Nero) and added a whole new layer of depth to him. While it didn’t justify his actions, it at least put them into context.
All of the characters were well written and the artwork throughout was fantastic. However, there was one thing that I genuinely loathed. In Star Trek: Nemesis we all saw Data destroyed. While his consciousness and memories were transferred to his brother B-4. In the case of this, it’s now implied that Data was “imprinted” onto B-4’s existing programming. With no sign of B-4’s personality showing throughout the book, we can only assume that B-4 no longer exists and now Data has taken over the body. If that truly is the case then it’s quite a shocking way to bring a character back and even more so for Star Trek. What was more worrying for me as a reader was the way it was so casually mentioned and the fact that there was no reaction to it from any of the other characters. It’s probably the first time that I’ve felt genuinely uncomfortable reading something in a comic.
That detail aside the story held up well and I might even consider going back and re-watching the movie and try to see it from a new perspective…
Onto the bonus content now, and taking up the remainder of the book is the first ever issue of Gold Key’s Star Trek comics. For those of you not familiar with them, they certainly are an acquired taste. The writers and artists often had very little source material to work with when crafting the stories so there are mistakes through in terminology, character behaviour, costumes, sets… all manner of things and some of the storylines border on the absurd BUT they still have a certain charm and appeal to them.
Before going into the comic itself, there’s a brief introduction to the world of Gold Key and its importance to Star Trek which helps set the mood for new Gold Key readers so then you have the story proper…
As with most Gold Key comics, you really need to try to forget everything you know about the Original Series and not take them too seriously. So in this story, “The Planet Of No Return”, the Enterprise explores a new world which is fraught with danger. On approaching, the ship is attacked by strange spores which suddenly changes a number of guinea pigs that are on board into giant living plants. These plants attempt to kill several Enterprise crew including Spock and McCoy until they are rescue by Security.
Realising the source, Kirk and a landing party head down to the planet to investigate. The discover that the planet is alive with intelligent – and deadly plants. The plants ultimately capture the Enterprise crew but not before they have converted some of them into plants as well (yes, security guards!). Eventually Kirk and Spock realise that the entire world is a plant run colony and they leave as quickly as possible but with a rather… dramatic conclusion.
Throughout the story if you’re new to Gold Key you’ll be surprised to see a lot of new things in the comic. Dialogue that doesn’t fit with what we have seen on screen, Spock regularly showing emotion, new terminology or altered names for weapons and equipment, and a very mechanical look for the Enterprise and equipment that the crew use. While the comic format allowed for a lot more creativity in the storytelling, in many cases – this one especially – some bordered on the absurd and the ending couldn’t be further from everything Star Trek stood for if it tried. It certainly demonstrated clearly what little experience the writer had with the series at the time, but at least this was to improve over time.
Certainly looking back there’s very little to redeem it in terms of art, story, characterisation or as an accurate representation of Star Trek in comic form, but as a historical look back on Star Trek in the 60s in a different medium it still makes for essential reading.
It’s a good introduction to the series and certainly a strong choice by Eaglemoss as well to kick things off with, linking a fan favourite show and the modern movies that have attracted a new wave of fans to Star Trek. With a pocket friendly starter price of £2.99 as well (compared to the normal £9.99 price), you can’t really go wrong with this one.
As for future issues while I’ll be covering them in order as quickly as I can get them (sadly my nearest stockist is a 90 minute journey away that I usually only get to once every 1-2 weeks) so I may not be as quick as I’d like. One thing that has disappointed me slightly from the upcoming schedule is that only two from the first 12 are non-IDW and a large part of the run are centred around the movie – prequels, single character arcs or the adaptation itself. I do appreciate that the books need to be connected together in the collected works, but perhaps spacing them out more would have been better for those who don’t like the reboot?
One final gripe – and I’ll go into this further when I review it – is that Eaglemoss have already released their first special. Selling separately to the series, it’s an IDW/DC crossover featuring Green Lantern selling at a premium £14.99 price with a dust jacket. There are more promised in this extra range and it does make me wonder how large this series will actually turn out to be and how many of those will be “premium” releases.