Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Darkened Universe As It Could Have Been, The Best Of The Borg Rocks!

The Good: Good artwork, Decent story, Good ideas
The Bad: Does not truly make a larger statement on anything
The Basics: The Best Of The Borg fills in a gap in the Star Trek universe as well as illustrating a "what if" for one of the most popular episodes!

As I cull through my Star Trek comic collection, I have been replacing the original books with the new trade paperback anthologies of the volumes I actually want to keep. I'm not much of a comic book collector, but in junior high and high school, I was so into Star Trek that I bought everything I could and read (and loved) it. Now, as I age and I have become more discriminating and more space conscious, I am unloading those things I do not see myself returning to over the years. So, with the Star Trek comics that I remove from my collection and actually replace with the new trade paperback anthologies, it truly says something. Given that I did not replace my early Peter David comics with the anthology (reviewed here!), despite David's work thrilling me as a kid and young adult, it ought to say something when I did pick up Michael Jan Friedman's work The Best Of The Borg.

The Best Of The Borg is the second in the Star Trek Archives series of trade paperback anthologies of previously released comics (what most people call "graphic novels," but I don't because they aren't). And despite the Manga-style cover to The Best Of The Borg, the book is drawn to look good and include essentially two stories that feature the Borg from the DC and Marvel comic lines. The stories rely heavily on fans having seen and loved four episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Indeed, in order to truly understand the events of the first story, a four-issue arc called "The Worst Of Both Worlds," one needs to have seen the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes from "The Best Of Both Worlds," (reviewed here!), “The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II” (reviewed here!) and "Sarek" (reviewed here!). The one-shot "Operation: Assimilation" story is based entirely upon "The Neutral Zone" (reviewed here!). Without seeing those few hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the reader will likely be entirely lost. The Michael Jan Friedman written "The Worst Of Both Worlds" storyline dominates the Best Of The Borg anthology as it was four comic books originally, with a double-long concluding issue. "Operation: Assimilation" is almost an afterthought and has absolutely no bearing on the other story. It was written by Paul Jenkins.

In "The Worst Of Both Worlds," the U.S.S. Enterprise-D encounters a spatial phenomenon which casts the ship into an alternate universe. In that universe, the attempt to rescue Captain Jean-Luc Picard from the Borg failed and Locutus led his Borg cube to victory over the Federation by assimilating Earth. Embittered and desperate, Captain Riker sees the appearance of the intact Enterprise-D as a chance to turn around the fate of his entire galaxy. Unable to return home immediately, the crew of the Enterprise-D teams up with their counterparts to make a daring raid upon the assimilated Earth.

However, infiltrating Borg territory is appropriately dangerous and it turns lethal for members of Captain Riker's crew. Realizing that if it hadn't been for luck and cunning their universe would have fallen in a similar fashion, Captain Picard and Data head into the depths of assimilated Earth to encounter Locutus and try to save another galaxy from the Borg.

In "Operation: Assimilation," a Romulan ship led by Commander Moliok, investigates the destruction of Romulan bases and her Centurion is assimilated by the Borg. Not recognizing the dire nature of the threat, the Romulan ship is assimilated by the Borg and heads deeper into Romulan territory to assimilate more of Borg space.

"Operation: Assimilation" is essentially one woman's mental battle with the Borg after being assimilated. As she tries to resist giving the Borg all the information she possesses, she tries to find a way to destroy the Borg ship and herself to protect the Empire. It is a bleak vignette that makes explicit an internal battle implied by Picard in the resolution to "The Best Of Both Worlds." It also makes explicit the events alluded to in "The Neutral Zone." Without knowing what drove the Romulans out of their isolation, "Operation: Assimilation" seems more a flight of fancy than anything else. As it is, it stands as a sad character study that illustrates quietly the implied horror of the Borg. And it works, in part, because Moliok is trying to resist, but her circumstances make that impossible.

The bulk of the book is made up of the story arc "The Worst Of Both Worlds" and those issues are dark, but they lack a sense of consequence. The characters are interesting twists on the standard characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the novelty of seeing things like Riker with a bionic eye and the beaten down drive section of the Enterprise-D quickly wears off. As a result, the sense of peril is actually lessened as the book goes on; readers know the standard universe characters will not be killed off in the comic books and when there are casualties, it does not have the same impact as when out heroes are actually imperiled.

Even so, Michael Jan Friedman does an excellent job of keeping the tension high and the book interesting. The character twists, the way each of the surviving characters aboard the beleaguered Enterprise-D has changed as a result of failing in "The Best Of Both Worlds" are well-considered and the vividness of the contrast to the standard universe crew is impressive. The alternate-universe Riker is well-considered and Friedman makes a wonderful statement on human ingenuity in that Data has been lost in the alternate universe. Ironically, after this comic was released, an alternate universe episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired and they captured a similar desperation as Friedman embodied with his Riker.

But ultimately, the final pages of the story hinge on a twist that is a clever gimmick which may be hard to swallow for some fans. It illustrates a level of cleverness that makes Michael Jan Friedman a great writer with an exceptional eye for details, but is based on an implication that some might find a bit of a stretch. Personally, I liked it and the resolution is entertaining at the very least.

The artwork throughout The Best Of The Borg is consistent and the characters look recognizable and good. While some issues of Star Trek comics have characters who look like animated versions of themselves (i.e. light on details and coloring aspects) the characters in "The Worst Of Both Worlds" all look like the actors who portray them and there is a decent sense of movement in the panels. In fact, it is very easy to tell what is going on throughout as the drawings are very well penciled and colored. The cover gallery that is included in the trade paperback anthology is a nice touch as well.

All in all, fans of stories involving the Borg will love this anthology, but those looking for something of literature in the Star Trek universe will find this to be less impressive. But this is entertaining, clever and well-considered, even if it is ultimately of no real consequence.

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
The Last Generation


For other book reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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