Thursday, December 2, 2010

Star Trek Comics Reboot The Old With New: Peter David's Death Before Dishonor!

The Good: Moments of decent writing, Visually interesting, Funny, Interviews
The Bad: Plots are somewhat repetitive, New characters are hardly noteworthy
The Basics: With just barely enough to recommend, Peter David's early comics make for amusing Star Trek reading.

Some Star Trek writers have a real knack for writing. Some of them are able to look at the massive franchise and tie together all of the various loose ends. Peter David is one such author. David is responsible for such works as the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel I, Q (click here for my review!) which tied the Q of Next Generation into the original series episode "The Squire Of Gothos." David tends to see links in the Star Trek franchise everywhere. Peter David's works are funny, clever and often provocative. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to flesh out the Star Trek universe in the comic books, Peter David seems more concerned with recasting the Trek universe in his image (including by being drawn in as part of an inside joke) than with telling stories that are truly original in the Star Trek universe.

Nowhere is this more clear than in Death Before Dishonor, an anthology of comic books reproduced by Titan Publishing. Titan essentially took the Star Trek comic reboot from DC Comics that began in 1989 and reprinted the first six issues as a trade paperback anthology, much the way they did with the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic books.

Set during the time period following Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (click here for my review of that film!), Death Before Dishonor tells three stories involving the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-A on its trips around the galaxy. While there are three little stories, there is a more solid story arc through the graphic novel that spans all six anthologized issues. This is a simple anthology of previously released comics, but because most of the comic books are harder to find and a bit expensive now, this offers a compact, affordable way to get the stories from the comic books without hunting down the back issues. That is actually a very cool idea and to sweeten the deal, Titan Books included an interview with Leonard Nimoy and one with James Doohan, as well as biographies of the writer and artist for the Star Trek: The Next Generation comics.

The stories are basically three two-part adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-A and they are anthologized to provide adventures after the fifth movie, but before the series closed up with the sixth film. The adventures, originally published as the comic books: "The Return," "The Sentence," "Death Before Dishonor," "Repercussions," "Fast Friends," and "Cure All," are anthologized here for ease of presentation and story continuity. In fact, the anthology tells the overall story much better than the individual comic books; like "Repercussions." That book serves as a bridge issue and a set-up for the final two-part story in the book. in fact, it does little else other than close the book on the third chapter and set up the fifth.

In "The Return" and "The Sentence," Captain James T. Kirk returns to the U.S.S. Enterprise-A after Scotty's refit of the new starship. This more or less coincides with the Klingon Ambassador declaring that he wants Kirk dead or alive. Having placed a bounty on Kirk's head in the middle of a Federation Council meeting, the Klingons begin to hunt Kirk and the Enterprise. Before they can begin their first mission, the U.S.S. Enterprise intercepts a distress call from a small ship that is under attack. Kirk and the Enterprise arrive and rescue Kroitz, a Nasgul, from his own people. Moments later, the Salla of Nasgul arrives and kills Kroitz simply by pronouncing death upon him. The Klingon Captain Klaa, offended by the Emperor's willingness to sell out his people, begins hunting down the Enterprise, while the Enterprise extricates itself from the Nasgul.

For the other half of "The Sentence" and in "Death Before Dishonor," the Enterprise arrives as Casmus III where there is a civil war that has ravaged half the population. With one side on the verge of defeat, the Enterprise and its guest, Ambassador Fox, arrive at the planet to try to negotiate a peace settlement. They discover, however, that the winning side does not want peace and the Prime Directive forces the ship to leave. The Klingons arrive and try to kill Captain Kirk, complicating the process when Fox is beaten by the opposition forces.

"Repercussions" finishes off that story and sets up the next story with a hearing on how that was resolved. Essentially, Kirk is saddled with a protocol officer as a result of his actions and she accompanies the ship on its next mission.

In "Fast Friends" and "Cure All," the Enterprise arrives at a non-Federation world, where there is both a plague ravaging half the planet and a strong caste system that is keeping the undesirables segregated and dying. Kirk and Blaise (the protocol officer) arrive to find half the populace dying terribly and the other half making sure they do not become afflicted. As McCoy struggles to adapt the cure that was brought with the Enterprise (which worked for a limited time before the victims of the disease began dying horribly again) to the adapted virus, Kirk considers turning himself over to the planetary leader to try to save the millions of untouchables.

First off, Peter David is a wonderful Star Trek writer. David has a wonderful sense of humor and this fits in well with the post Star Trek V sense of exploration of the comedic aspects of Star Trek. It's almost like Star Trek was headed in a direction that made it more accessible to David's style of writing, even though most of his humor comes in his narrative techniques, like funny asides and comparisons in his novels. Lacking that, David is forced to make his humor more of dialogue-based. Sadly, this comes across as more of a collection of catch phrases and truly lame jokes that fall remarkably flat.

Second, in order to make many of the stories work, David has to invent characters. As a result, there is a geologist who is from some new ram-like race and has a crush on Sulu. There is the relief navigator, Lieutenant Li, a young officer who also is hot for Sulu. There is the new transporter operator, also a woman, and while we applaud David's bringing more women into the Star Trek storyline, they seem like romantic subplot filler. As well, there is Ensign Fulton, a blue-skinned, gem-eyed security officer who is entirely green.

Finally, the stories tend to be predictable and filled with character elements that have been done to death in Star Trek. Captain Kirk, Spock and McCoy pretty much speak as they did in Star Trek V. So, Spock is fairly obsessed with swearing, Kirk is a smarmy maverick and McCoy is even more irate than usual. But things like McCoy being irritable fall flat on the page. McCoy's lines just seem like useless whining and it's all the same whining he has done before in the movies. Similarly, supplemental characters like Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty all have loose ends from Star Trek V they need to wrap up and they are mixed in with the new characters trying to impress them. The thing is, much of the character interactions feel much like David is trying desperately to reinvent the Star Trek wheel. And he falls surprisingly short of success with that goal.

Actually, the only real strikes against the stories in Death Before Dishonor are related to the medium. James Fry and Arne Starr, who provided the artwork for the comic books, are good. Many of the characters are posed in ridiculous poses and the new aliens look quite unlike anything else in Star Trek. The idea of the fanatical Nasgul are interesting and they are well-drawn. The problem, though, is that StarFleet suddenly is an incredibly diverse place with aliens that look nothing like the creatures from Star Trek.

But the stories are fun and the serialized aspect of them are just good enough to recommend to fans of comic books or Star Trek. This is not great literature at all and the attempts at humor seem more desperate than clever. David has not lost his touch completely and the medium does seem to be one that works for his sense of movement. But these are not his best works.

For other Star Trek trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Archives 1: The Best Of Peter David
Star Trek: Nero
Star Trek Omnibus 1


For other book reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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