Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Battle Within: Star Trek: The Next Generation Comic Books That Seem. . . Like Comic Books!

The Good: Moments of writing, Moments of artwork, Bonus interviews are interesting
The Bad: A lot of the artwork is very simplified, New alien races make little sense
The Basics: With one of my weakest "recommends" to date, I accept that there's just enough to The Battle Within to make this trade paperback worth buying for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I've been having quite a bit of nostalgia over my middle school and high school days lately. This seems to be in large part because I've been picking up more and more trade paperbacks; comic books reprinted in an omnibus format. People want to try to convince me they are graphic novels, but things like the Star Trek: The Next Generation collection The Hero Factor (reviewed here!) are not graphic novels; they do not tell a unified story in comic form. Books like that are simply collections of previously released comic books: omnibus trade paperbacks.

The producers of DC's Star Trek: The Next Generation comics have begun putting out trade paperback anthologies of the various comics. Following on the success of The Hero Factor, Titan Books continued with The Battle Within.

Set during the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), The Battle Within tells - essentially - two and a half 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. As well, they are printed in a way that there's no ink that gets left on one's fingers! That is actually a very cool idea and to sweeten the deal, Titan Books included an interview with Jonathan Frakes and one with Marina Sirtis. These are only mildly informative now, but they are a nice touch and it shows an attempt to put some added value into the trade paperback.

The stories are basically a two-part adventure and a four part arc with the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D and they are anthologized to provide adventures in between the televised third season episodes. The adventures, originally published as the comic books: "The Pilot," "The Battle Within," "The Pay Off," "The Noise of Justice," "The Impostor," and "Whoever Fights Monsters" are anthologized here for ease of presentation and story continuity.

In "The Pilot" and "The Battle Within," Lieutenant Commander Data is kidnaped by an alien race. Deified and believed to be far more powerful than the aliens, they capture data and plug him into their ship with the intent of augmenting their vessel. Apparently reprogrammed, Data leads the Enterprise on a high speed chase while Troi tries to figure out what is wrong with him and Riker attempts to rescue the android second officer.

"The Pay Off" begins a four part arc with something of a bottle story. Dr. Crusher falls ill and the only people who have a cure for what ails her are the Ferengi. The Ferengi insist that Picard is guilty of destroying some of their ships, a claim which is almost immediately supported by StarFleet which arrives to arrest Picard, accusing him of destroying several vessels, including a Federation starship.

In "The Noise Of Justice," Picard finds himself again at the tender mercies of Captain Phillipa Louvois, of the Judge Advocate General's office. He recalls a prior mission involving the Stargazer as he prepares to stand trial for the murders he apparently ordered while in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

In "The Impostor" and "Whoever Fights The Monsters," Picard is provisionally exonerated when the Enterprise is spotted while docked at the Starbase. Eager to stop the death and destruction, the Enterprise is sent to stop the killer Enterprise. In the process, they discover that the path the adversarial ship is following is essentially the course of the Enterprise-D's first year of missions. And when they manage to track down the impostor, they find something they did not anticipate!

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 the stories in The Battle Within generally illustrate his creativity. Unfortunately, that creativity seems to come with some serious artistic liberties. At the climax of the story, Deanna Troi essentially performs a mind-meld, something she is not at all powerful enough to do.

Further strikes against the stories in The Battle Within are related to the medium. Pablo Marcos, who provided the artwork for the comic books as penciller, is good, though many of the panels are bland and look far more like caricatures of the crew of the Enterprise-D than actual drawings of them. There are serious shading issues and the artwork often has characters - like Deanna Troi - posed at ridiculous angles.

On the story front, Michael Jan Friedman runs into difficulties mostly based on the medium. There is a much greater sense of movement in these stories and the dialogue is not as sharp as in some of Friedman's other (novel) works. "The Noise Of Justice" foreshadows Friedman's works like Reunion, but here the story seems more like filler. Indeed, one has the sense when reading "The Pay Off" and "The Noise Of Justice" that the writer is being ordered to hold the good story for the one year anniversary issue. So, the story picks up, but it is pretty blase until the last act.

Fans of the series will enjoy seeing characters like Phillipa Louvois from "The Measure Of A Man" (reviewed here!) incorporated into the comics. This manages to provide a larger sense of the Star Trek universe and that does seem to be the point of creating comic books in this universe. It does, however, take a real clever reader to reach the conclusions before Data on the impostor's course.

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. Sadly, this trade paperback limits Friedman's ability to truly explore the characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead, he imbues them with superhuman qualities that they do not normally possess. Similarly, Data is treated as remarkably weak in the first two stories. How the aliens incapacitate him is not satisfactorily explained.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will likely still enjoy this anthology and ultimately, I gave it a very weak "recommend" because the stories are just good enough. The Battle Within lacks 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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