Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Concept Isn't A Novelty: Why I'm More Lukewarm To Star Trek: The Last Generation.

The Good: Generally decent artwork, Interesting concept, Good dialogue
The Bad: Plot is ultimately unsatisfying and only has marginal originality, Light on character.
The Basics: Clever in parts and exploring an intriguing premise, The Last Generation looks at a Klingon-occupied Federation in a cool trade paperback anthology.

I can completely understand why fans of Star Wars or traditional comic books go for the alternate universe storylines that change a single element of the known story to see how the comic or franchise would have developed otherwise. It's a fun concept and alternate universes make for twists that are enjoyable to highlight the important events and heroism of the protagonists. But largely, I can understand enjoying the alternate universe twists in something like Star Wars comic books because the series was so straightforward in so many ways and the creative exercise of exploring "what if" is irresistible to writers. But the popularity of the Star Trek Myriad Universe concept has me boggled: and I am a Trekker!

For those who are unfamiliar with it, "Myriad Universes" is a product of Pocket Books and the comic company IDW where writers are dabbling in the alternate universes in the Star Trek franchise and presenting stories set in darker universes where something big went wrong and recognizable Star Trek heroes work to fix their universe. Star Trek: The Next Generation The Last Generation is the IDW entry into this literary fray and the five comic books of the series are now anthologized into The Last Generation trade paperback anthology. The reason I am having trouble with this being so popular is that we've seen it before. "Myriad Universes" is essentially a fleshed-out version of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Parallels." In that episode, Worf experiences multiple universes and the viewer gets it. There is little other than the novelty of asking "What If" that fuels The Last Generation. Still, IDW and author Andrew Steven Harris present an interesting story well with The Last Generation.

To understand The Last Generation, one pretty much needs to have seen Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (reviewed here!) and to get the most out of it, it helps to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Trek franchise. As one who does, I enjoyed seeing the obscure and recognizable characters from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation popping up on the pages of The Last Generation. Essentially, though, this trade paperback anthology explores what would have happened if the Federation president had been assassinated at the climax of The Undiscovered Country.

Seventy years after the assassination of the Federation by Klingon outlaws, the Federation is utterly crushed. In space, StarFleet has been reduced to the U.S.S. Excelsior under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu. The Excelsior makes hit-and-run attacks on Klingon outposts as best it can, but Sulu is an old man whose time has long since passed. On Earth, the Klingons rule over the humans who treat them like a subspecies. The tyrannical Worf leads the occupying forces and he is hampered by the Resistance, which is led by Jean-Luc Picard. Picard's team, including O'Brien, Ro, Yar and Wesley Crusher, commits terrorist acts on Klingon installations while trying to avoid capture or death.

Riker and Geordi, searching for resources, managed to discover Data, the android and they come to believe that he may have the means to help the Resistance win. When Sulu launches an attack on Worf directly, a traitor in the Resistance is uncovered and the arrival of Data shakes things up in ways no one predicted. Abandoning his love, Guinan, Picard sets out to right the timeline by making sure the pivotal moment in history goes a different way!

"Wait!" I hear Trekkers cry, "Didn't they essentially do this with 'Yesterday's Enterprise?!'" "No," I reply. "And shut up." Okay, this is essentially a recast concept of "Yesterday's Enterprise" (reviewed here!) and part of the enjoyable irony of that is that Rachel Garrett (captain of the Enterprise-C in "Yesterday's Enterprise") is Captain Sulu's first officer in this book! If one considers "Yesterday's Enterprise," The Last Generation is far less enjoyable as it uses many of the common elements that made that episode so popular. The fundamental difference here is that StarFleet has already lost and the Federation truly is no more. While "Yesterday's Enterprise" explored an alternate timeline where the Federation was on the brink of collapse, The Last Generation pushes the Star Trek universe over that cliff.

And it's appropriately dark. The thing about the Myriad Universe concept is it's a pretty dark one. Every major twist revolves around asking "what if [x hero] had failed to prevent [y catastrophe]?" Of course, the answers are never "the universe would be covered in tulips and daisies and peace would be everywhere!" No, the results are always bad which is why Our Heroes truly are heroic, because the consequences of their potential failures are so dire. In The Last Generation, though, the feeling is one that the novelty is being explored more than a truly good story is being told.

The result is a book that trades frequently on the enjoyment of revealing the twists, both physical and psychological in the principle characters. Guinan has been blinded, Picard and his brother work together as part of the Resistance, Worf is a dictator (wait, we've seen that before, too . . .), Ro teaches terrorist techniques and O'Brien . . . O'Brien is pretty much O'Brien as he was assumed to be during the Cardassian Wars. As the book goes on, though, the novelty wears off and this is how the book ultimately gets a more enthusiastic "recommend" than its more mediocre rating.

The Last Generation pushes the envelope with the characters, so the mole in the Resistance is an unlikely one and it works. Similarly, the influence of Data and the fight between Sulu and Worf are decent storytelling. The late appearance by Braxton (a "Star Trek: Voyager" character) works as well and the overall sensibility of the story works. For sure, readers did not need to see what a Klingon occupation would be like to guess at it (the presence of so many regular characters considering how devastating such a condition would be to the timeline seventy years before is problematic, but still works), but Harris and his team pull it off well. As well, for creating grittier characters, for Picard especially, the heart of the character is present and the character is written with dialogue that seems plausible from the character.

Similarly, there are elements of other characters that fit the whole idea of the book, yet retain the flavor of the original characters. So, for example, Worf has a lover and she is recognizable and a good fit even for the more tyrannical Worf. The inclusion of her (I am trying to retain SOME surprises for the reader!) is a nice detail that makes the character less monolithic.

What is a little more problematic is the artwork. The artwork oscillates between entirely recognizable and clear and problematically animated. Gordon Purcell is a good artist for most characters, but he does not get Guinan right and when Wesley has a change of haircut, that character becomes unrecognizable. The color in the trade paperback anthology is pretty wonderful, though.

The trade paperback anthology includes all five comics that made up The Last Generation as well as a cover art gallery which adds additional value to this book. Fans will get a kick out of this one and there is enough to recommend it, but without the serious knowledge of who the various main and supporting characters are, it is hard to appreciate this book to its fullest.

For other Star Trek: The Next Generation trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
The Hero Factor
The Battle Within
The Star Lost


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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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