Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Peter David Makes A Joke Out Of Star Trek With The Trial Of James T. Kirk!

The Good: Moments of decent writing, Visually interesting, Funny, Interviews
The Bad: Plots are somewhat repetitive, New characters are hardly noteworthy
The Basics: Peter David's knowledge of the Star Trek universe is enough to bring The Trial Of James T. Kirk up to average territory, but not recommend it!

After I reviewed the first original Star Trek graphic novel, Death Before Dishonor (reviewed here!), I found the subsequent graphic novel, The Trial Of James T. Kirk and set to reading it to be able to write a review of it. Continuing the storyline where Death Before Dishonor left off, The Trial Of James T. Kirk is 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 second batch of 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 (reviewed here!), Death Before Dishonor tells two stories involving the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-A on its trips around the galaxy. While there are two big stories, there are little character story arcs through the graphic novel that span 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 William Shatner and one with Nichelle Nichols.

The stories are basically two three-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: "Not. . . Sweeney," "Going, Going . . .," ". . .Gone," "The First Thing We Do . . .," ". . . Let's Kill All The Lawyers," and "Trial And Error" are anthologized here for ease of presentation and story continuity. The anthology tells the overall story much better than the individual comic books, save that there are a slew of references to individual episodes of Star Trek as well as the previously released comic book adventures from the first anthology.

In "Not. . . Sweeney," "Going, Going . . .," and ". . .Gone," the U.S.S. Enterprise is sent to a planet that is on the verge of breaking up, shortly after the bounty on Kirk's head is raised by a bidding war between the Salla of Nasgul and the Klingon Empire. Kirk is astounded to find that the colonists he and the Enterprise are trying to rescue do not want their help, convinced as they are that they can wait for another Federation ship to arrive rather than risk boarding the Enterprise only to be killed by the first group of mercenaries that come their way.

Unfortunately for all concerned, as the planet's upheavals begin to become serious, the notorious bounty hunter Sweeney arrives with his fleet of ships and manages to capture Kirk, Spock and R.J. Blaise, the new protocol officer. While Spock works to neutralize Sweeney and Sulu tries to keep the Enterprise from being destroyed by the mercenaries, Kirk begins to rethink his career and his decisions, leading up to him surrendering himself to the custody of the Federation Council.

So, in "The First Thing We Do . . .," ". . . Let's Kill All The Lawyers," and "Trial And Error," the Trial Of James T. Kirk is conducted. Represented by Samuel T. Cogsley, Kirk is tried for murder of the Klingon captain and crew on the Genesis Mission and Prime Directive violations for his actions on the border of Nasgulian space. The Salla of Nasgul calls witnesses from Kirk's past missions who testify against Kirk and illustrate how he has played fast and loose with the Prime Directive in the past. These range from the troubling - like Anan 7 - to the absurd, like Bela Oxmyx. As the trial ramps up, Kirk and his team look like they might lose and Kirk might be extradited or stripped of his command.

First off, Peter David is a wonderful Star Trek writer, or he is in other mediums. David has a wonderful sense of humor for his narrators, but in the comic book setting (which lacks a decent context for his style of asides), his humor falls squarely flat. While his humor in terms of lines characters say fits in well with the post Star Trek V sense of exploration of the comedic aspects of Star Trek, this seems to be the one trick David is milking. 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. This also takes the form of ridiculous phrases (the colonists all shout "Holy Kolker!" and everyone including the Klingons repeats with awe and dread, "Not . . . Sweeney!") and allusions that make the comic incarnation of Star Trek seem much more like a comic strip than a comic book (like the Calvin And Hobbes references in the first three stories).

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 and the thing is, all of these extra characters (save one) are written out by the end of the book, so one has to ask "what is the point?!"

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.

As well, David's stories hinge almost entirely on an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek. In The Trial Of James T. Kirk, David references "Court Martial," "A Taste Of Armageddon," "A Piece Of The Action," Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and "Friday's Child" rather heavily. I love serialized works but this is just one allusion after another weakly held together by a thin plot and then long, pedantic speeches.

As well, another serious strike against the stories in The Trial Of James T. Kirk is related to the medium. James Fry and Arne Starr, who provided the artwork for the comic books, might be good, but they're not showing it terribly well here. 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. Especially bad is R.J. Blaise who appears to age, de-age, become a giant pair of legs with a pin head and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model all within frames of each other!

The stories are fun and the serialized aspect of them are almost worthwhile, but this anthology is far too comic strippy for fans of comic books or Star Trek to recommend this book. This is not great literature at all and the attempts at humor seem more desperate than clever. David seems to have lost his touch in this anthology.

For other Star Trek trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
Spock Reflections
Star Trek Omnibus 1
Assignment: Earth


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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