Thursday, April 7, 2011

Early Star Trek: The Next Generation Comics Collected Are Enjoyable, But Not Great Literature: The Hero Factor!

The Good: Interesting stories, Written with character's voices well
The Bad: Some shaky artwork, Some elements of simplicity
The Basics: If you can find it at a discount, this trade paperback anthology of the first six Star Trek: The Next Generation comic books is bound to delight fans.

When the Star Trek: The Next Generation comics began in the early 90s, I was in middle school and a big fan of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. With my many moves through the years and a need in college for money, I sold most of my Star Trek: The Next Generation comics off to make room for textbooks and have money for pizza. Fortunately, now that I am an adult, the producers of DC's Star Trek: The Next Generation comics have begun putting out trade paperback anthologies of the various comics. The first of these is The Hero Factor, a collection put out by Titan Books.

Set during the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), The Hero Factor tells three stories involving the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D on its trips around the galaxy. 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 Patrick Stewart and one with Brent Spiner, 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-D and they are anthologized to provide adventures in between the televised second season adventures. The adventures, originally published as the comic books: "Return To Raimon," "Murder Most Foul," "The Derelict," "The Hero Factor," "Serafin's Survivors," and "Shadows In The Garden," a anthologized her for ease of presentation and story continuity.

In "Return To Raimon" and "Murder Most Foul," Captain Picard is enthusiastically looking forward to a trip to the planet Raimon, a planet he visited while he was the captain of the U.S.S. Stargazer. He had befriended the planetary ruler there and his daughter, who was just a child when he last saw her. He arrives to discover the girl is very much a woman and when his friend is murdered, Picard becomes the prime suspect. Under Raimon law, Picard chooses Riker to stand in for a fight to the death and while Riker is holding his own, Picard hunts down the real murderer.

In "The Derelict" and "The Hero Factor," an Away Team beams over to a derelict ship from a distant empire to discover that it is anything but inactive. Systems come alive and the ship takes off at insane speeds for the home planet where those captured are told they will be dissected for study. While they are in stasis and the Enterprise pursues the little ship, Worf and Engineer McRobb - who were not in the stasis chamber with Pulaski, Riker and Troi - work to deactivate the ship, allowing the timid engineer a chance to rise up to being a hero.

And in "Serafin's Survivors" and "Shadows In The Garden," an old lover of Geordi's arrives on the Enterprise as part of a group of colonists who have survived an environmental disaster on a distant world. As she and Geordi flirt around one another, it becomes clear that the group of survivors did not leave the planet unaltered and the secret they hide will likely tear Geordi apart!

First off, Michael Jan Friedman is an adept Star Trek: The Next Generation writer. Friedman wrote such "Star Trek: The Next Generation" novels as Reunion and was given the responsibility of filling in portions of Captain Picard's twenty year mission as captain of the Stargazer. He was, also, the author of the unfortunate Star Trek: Voyager episode "Resistance." None of the stories in this are nearly that bad.

Actually, the only real strikes against the stories in The Hero Factor are related to the medium. Pablo Marcos, who provided the artwork for the comic books as penciller, is good, though the Raimons look like the lead Thundercat. But Marcos runs into the problem many artists seem to have: he is unable to draw Doctor Pulaski well (though coloring is an issue in this case, too). Given her role in the second story, this becomes a bit of a drawback.

On the story front, Michael Jan Friedman runs into difficulties solely based on the medium. Engineer McRobb is interesting enough, but it seems odd that when beginning the comic books with such a rich cast of characters to explore, a new nervous engineer would be created to be added to the mix. At least it wasn't the Bickersons (a terrible pair from the first DC comic mini-series for Star Trek: The Next Generation). Friedman's real limitation comes in the third story. Because the comics are set in the second season (the show was already in the third season when the books originally were published), there are certain limitations. We know none of the main characters are going to be killed off, even in a non-canon work.

But more pronounced is the difficulty with establishing the relationship between Geordi and Dahlia as a vital and possible thing. Whatever history Geordi and Dahlia had, no matter how close they come to falling in love again, the reader knows that it cannot last because Geordi is a loser who can't keep a woman in the series and it would be hard to keep a story going in the comics where he was married and in love. Fans simply wouldn't buy it.

So, we're left with a tragedy and Michael Jan Friedman has a penchant for Shakespearean tragedies in the Star Trek universe. The Raimon storyline has a similarly simple murder investigation, the Serafin storyline has a very Shakespearean love story/tragedy, and the story in the middle is pretty much a hero in the process of becoming with McRobb getting a spine. Despite being a character that most fans will not immediately connect with or care about, the middle story has a creepy factor to it that works well.

Michael Jan Friedman has a fine sense of the voice of the characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation, though there appear phrases like "eh?" that do not quite read right (it's as if the Enterprise crew suddenly became Canadian!). Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will likely still enjoy this anthology and ultimately, I gave it a "recommend" because the writing is good enough. The Hero Factor does, however, lack the finesse and depth of the average novel.

For other Star Trek franchise graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
The Trial Of James T. Kirk
Star Trek: Nero
Star Trek Archives Volume 3: The Best Of Gary Seven


For other book reviews, please visit my index page!

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

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