Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creativity Outside The Canon: The Best Of Peter David (Star Trek Comics) Still Underwhelms.

The Good: Two good stories, Generally good (if inconsistent) artwork
The Bad: "The Worthy" storyline is counter-Trek.
The Basics: For die-hard fans only, three of Peter David's Star Trek comic stories are anthologized in The Best Of Peter David, which is not worth hunting down.

It is interesting to see where creative people can go with well-established franchises. Arguably the most creative mind, for a time, in the Star Trek universe to work in the novels and comic books was Peter David. Peter David has both a great comic mind for writing prose that is funny with sidebars that are laugh-out-loud funny. But David is also known for doing an amazing job of tying together the disparate parts of the Star Trek universe and he is largely credited for revitalizing the Star Trek comic book line in the early 1990s. Around that same time, Peter David made a huge splash in the realm of the Star Trek novels by penning the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Imzadi (click here for that review!) which explored the hinted-at relationship between Deanna Troi and Will Riker while making a fantastic time-travel epic through the use of the Guardian Of Forever. That level of creativity served David well and earned him the right to wander pretty freely throughout the Star Trek universe doing whatever he pleased.

In the comic books, this allowed Peter David to tell some stories that went in very different directions and the DC Comics books that he wrote have been anthologized because of their popularity. The most recent anthology, The Best Of Peter David is part of the new line of Star Trek Archives books and it makes sense that it is the debut of the Archives trade paperback anthologies as David's works do have almost universal appeal. However, for readers who like Star Trek, the publishers of Archives #1 miscalculated. The bulk of this volume is made up of the three-part "Worthy" saga, which was co-written with Bill Mumy (of Lost In Space and Babylon 5 fame) and this is one of the weakest sagas Peter David ever put his name to. In fact, against the apparent wishes of some of those left in charge of managing the Star Trek franchise at the time, Mumy and David did a de-facto crossover with Lost In Space which was mediocre at best. The real disappointing aspect of "The Return Of The Worthy" storyline was that it undermined the fundamental principle of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's Prime Directive, which basically dictated that our heroes were not gods and could not meddle in the affairs of less-developed races and planets.

Still, Archive 1 does an excellent job of showcasing the creativity and witty dialogue abilities of writer Peter David. In the first of the three stories, "Retrospective," David creates a Scotty story which almost serves as a template for the direction Sulu went in later on (in canon). "The Return Of The Worthy," which dominates the anthology is followed by "Once A Hero . . ."

"Retrospective" was a double-long Annual (#3) which featured Scotty. Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer under the starships James T. Kirk commanded, was seldom given romances in the original Star Trek. In "Retrospective," Scotty is uncharacteristically dour when McCoy and Kirk look in on him. He is, in fact, mourning the death of his wife, Glynn Campbell. Glynn was Scotty's childhood sweetheart, whom he married shortly before the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and whose death is rocking Scotty following the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. David's story illustrates the romance between Scotty and Glynn through recognizable events in the Star Trek canon, like Scotty's return to Earth following his nephew's death and his abandonment of Glynn to go with Kirk back to the Genesis Planet. The story winds backward through periods like the Enterprise's return to Earth after the five-year mission and Glynn's relationships. It works back to Scotty's childhood with her and the story is sad, sweet and fleshes out Scotty wonderfully. This story illustrates David's creativity and actually shows a remarkably sensitive side to the author.

The three-part "The Return Of The Worthy" saga - "A Rude Awakening," "Great Expectations," and "Tomorrow Never Knows" - introduces to the "Star Trek" universe a small ship's surviving crew. The quintet, plus their robot, bears a striking resemblance to the mythical Worthy of Karimea, who disappeared some three hundred years prior and were prophesied to return. As Kirk wrestles with the protocol officer assigned to him, he accidentally reanimates the Worthy. A leader, a healer, an engineer, a psychic, a boy genius and a robot make up the Worthy and after coming to believe in the abilities and good nature of the group, the Enterprise ferries them to their world. At Karimea, the Worthy and the Enterprise crew are appalled to find that a holocaust has occurred and the Worthy have been reanimated too late. As the Enterprise crew puts up with the bratty kid in the group - who is peeved because the landing party that reanimated the Worthy shot their robot - they struggle to find a place in the galaxy for the Worthy.

"The Return Of The Worthy" saga is a painfully dull one where a group of aliens defined solely by their yellow skin declare themselves morally superior to the Enterprise crew and the geniuses aboard the Enterprise agree. Equally as irksome is the sendoff of the Worthy where the little group pledges to go forth into the galaxy and correct all of the errors and oversights that StarFleet will not get involved in. This is directly contrary to the high-minded philosophy that Star Trek has long espoused, which states that more advanced societies ought not to meddle in the affairs of less-developed ones. In fact, the only clever aspect to the whole saga of the Worthy is the way Peter David ties in the god Apollo, who - as it turns out - is what banished the Worthy in the first place.

The final story in Archives 1 is "Once A Hero. . ." In this one-shot, Captain Kirk wrestles with a eulogy for a fallen officer who no one actually knew. As he wanders around the ship interviewing people, he discovers that the security officer who sacrificed himself for Kirk was completely unknown by any of the crew and he tries to find something, anything, to say about the man.

"Once A Hero . . ." is all right, but it is essentially a reworked episode of the television show M*A*S*H which Peter David is banking most Star Trek fans have not seen. None of the post-"Retrospective" stories enhance any of the characters in any significant way and these seem very much not like the best stories of Peter David's comic-writing career. Then again, those looking for an inexpensive way to get ahold of a bunch of Peter David's writings will appreciate this volume, which is printed on higher quality paper than the comics originally were.

For other Star Trek graphic novel or trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Archives Volume 3 - The Best Of Gary Seven
Star Trek: Nero
Star Trek: Mirror Images


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for an organized listing of them!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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