Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lazy Star Trek: The Next Generation Comic Theater: Maelstrom Sinks

The Good: Moments of story concept, "Forbidden Fruit" isn't bad
The Bad: Sloppy artwork, Light on character development, Some of the stories are shoddy.
The Basics: A disappointing outing for all but the youngest Star Trek: The Next Generation readers, Maelstrom is an erratic collection of four stories.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation comic books worked for a little while, generally while DC comics managed to attract the best and brightest talent to write for them. They began their run with Michael Jan Friedman as the head writer and his Star Trek: The Next Generation comics were made into the trade paperback anthologies The Hero Factor (reviewed here!) and The Battle Within (reviewed here!). Unlike the earlier omnibus editions, this trade paperback begins to show some serious flaws in the comic books.

Set during the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), Maelstrom tells four 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 LeVar Burton and one with Michael Dorn. 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 two two-part adventures bookended by a standalone adventure on each end 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 Hand Of The Assassin," "Holiday On Ice," "Prisoners Of The Ferengi," "I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing," "The Weapon," and "Forbidden Fruit" are anthologized here for ease of presentation and story continuity.

In "The Hand Of The Assassin," the telepathic Domak come aboard the Enterprise to negotiate a line of planetary succession following the death of the planet's queen and a civil war between the two heirs. While security forced monitor the negotiations and Troi monitors everyone to insure no one is being telepathically influenced by the Domak - who have been known to do that - one of the aids to one of the heirs takes control of O'Brien's body. Intent on using the transporter chief to use the transporter to kill the queen, O'Brien struggles to keep the enemy from taking him over entirely and using him as an instrument of murder.

In "Holiday On Ice" and "Prisoners Of The Ferengi," Geordi and Riker go for shore leave on a frozen world. While out snow sailing, they uncover a significant Ferengi strip mining facility and end up captured by the Ferengi in charge. While the Enterprise crew searches for Riker and Geordi, they are tormented by the Ferengi and try to escape.

In "I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing" and "The Weapon," the U.S.S. Enterprise-D finds itself investigating a white hole when it it thrown into Romulan space. The crew displays irrational behavior - like Riker yelling at Picard about keeping the ship clean - and the damage from passing through the spatial anomaly leaves the ship crippled. The situation goes from bad to worse when the Romulans, led by Tomalak, appear and demand the Enterprise surrender for its incursion into their space.

In "Forbidden Fruit," Wesley Crusher pokes along working on a new version of the transporter as part of his studies. He develops the hyperport, a powerful device that appears to work, so well that it transports a man from a very different time and space to the Enterprise D. Once there, he urges Wesley to destroy the hyperport, illustrating that the technology leads Wesley to a fast captaincy that results in the hyperport technology decimating a planet's population. Wesley, then, must choose whether or not scientific endeavor and the benefits of the hyperport are worth the lives of the people of Rovan IV.

First off, Michael Jan Friedman is an adept Star Trek: The Next Generation writer, but in these stories he seems to be falling down some on his dialogue. The two most original stories - "The Hand Of The Assassin" and "Forbidden Fruit" - work well enough because the stories are intriguing. The introduction of O'Brien into the comic books is a decent one and Michael Jan Friedman gets his voice down pretty well. "Forbidden Fruit," though, is written by Dave Stern and Mike O'Brien and it has a decent plot and character conflict, but it is also pretty loaded with exposition to make the whole thing make sense.

The Ferengi storyline, though, is absolutely terrible. Unlike other comics, books and the series, the Ferengi portrayed in this story seem to have evolved not at all from their original characterization from "The Last Outpost" (reviewed here!). Unlike that episode, the Ferengi were soon developed into an absolute capitalist society that had a code. In other words, they were not simple barbarians as they appeared in their first appearance. Similarly, the problems in the two-part Maelstrom story (where the anthology gets its name from) are simple and a poor exit for Michael Jan Friedman from the medium.

Further strikes against the stories in Maelstrom are related to the artwork. Pablo Marcos, who provided the artwork for the comic books as penciller, was once 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. Many of the panels have serious problems with how people are posed and expressions that make the characters look nothing like they are portrayed on television. The artwork degenerates over the course of the first few stories until Marcos is eventually replaced by an entirely new art team.

On the story front, Michael Jan Friedman runs into difficulties that include having to make up characters to have the stories make sense. For example, in "The Hand Of The Assassin," Friedman relies on the new Lieutenant, Forthol, to provide O'Brien a way to resist his telepathic influence. Ignorant of how to play poker, Forthol needs instruction - convenient this happens on the very night O'Brien needs to send a message about the danger a queen is in! That type of plot conceit makes the book hold up poorly, just as the resolution to "The Weapon" seems particularly lame.

Fans of the series will enjoy seeing characters like Tomalak from "The Enemy" (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 for this series.

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. Having to work around the crew with new characters just to make the stories work feels surprisingly stale.

The result is a book that fans are more likely to be disappointed by than enjoy. This is one that even the die-hard fans will have no real problem with passing on. It might, however, be good for younger readers who are just getting into science fiction.

For other Star Trek graphic novels reviewed by me, please check out:
The Trial Of James T. Kirk - Peter David
Star Trek: Nero - Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Star Trek Archives 3: The Best Of Gary Seven


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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