Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Star Lost: Michael Jan Friedman's Well-written Return To Star Trek: The Next Generation Comics!

The Good: Interesting story, Moments of character, Moments of artwork
The Bad: Sloppy artwork, Light on character development, Predictable
The Basics: When three vital crew members are lost on a mission, Picard struggles to replace them in a comic book adventure that readers will find predictable but enjoyable.

For almost the entire run of DC's Star Trek: The Next Generation monthly comic book run, novelist Michael Jan Friedman was tapped as the writer of the series. He did some remarkably clever works that fleshed out the Star Trek universe fairly well. He also did some issues that did not work nearly as well as one would hope. But in the early years of the comics, Friedman had it going on and so it is understandable that some of his best arcs would be republished as trade paperback collections. One of the better ones of those was his collection which was anthologized as The Star Lost.

Set during the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), The Star Lost tells essentially one story over the course of five issues (substantially six issues, as #24 was a double-sized issue). This anthology, originally published as monthly comic books numbered 20 - 24 involves 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, DC included an introduction with Ronald D. Moore. This are only mildly informative now, but it is a nice touch and it shows an attempt to put some added value into the trade paperback.

The stories are basically a long arc of the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D which involved a single traumatic incident and the repercussions of that. This mission is anthologized - quite well - to provide an adventure in between the televised fourth season episodes. The Star Lost arc was originally published as the comic books: "The Flight Of The Albert Einstein," "Mourning Star," "Trapped," "The Barrier" and "Homecoming" are anthologized here for ease of presentation and story continuity.

In "The Flight Of The Albert Einstein," a shuttlecraft carrying Riker, Worf, Ensign Crusher, Dr. Selar and Ensign Faraday is en route to aid with a medical emergency when it encounters an energy distortion and vanishes. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise are surprised when they learn that the Albert Einstein (their shuttlecraft) never arrived at the dying world of Beta Hydros IV. Abandoning its mission, the Enterprise reroutes to save the planet while the crew of the shuttlecraft, wounded and alone, tries to determine just where in the galaxy they are!

In "Mourning Star," the Enterprise completes its mission at Beta Hydros IV, only to investigate the disappearance of the Albert Einstein. Finding no trace of the shuttle, Picard is forced to declare his officers dead. This is especially devastating to Deanna Troi and Dr. Crusher and Picard works to find replacements for his crew members. Meanwhile, the Albert Einstein journeys to a strange space station nearby, only to discover ships from every imaginable race present!

In "Trapped," the crew of the Albert Einstein, far from dead, discovers that the amalgamated space station at the edge of the galaxy is populated by all sorts of beings, from missing Federation ships, Romulan, Ferengi and other races. The station has essentially broken down into two camps, one that wants to work together and one who wants to control all new arrivals. Riker and his crew end up with the more Federation-like group and soon their camp falls under siege from the other side as they hope to get parts from the Albert Einstein that will enable them to leave. On the Enterprise, Picard chooses his new command crew and prepares to progress with the mission of exploration of the ship.

In "The Barrier," the U.S.S. Enterprise continues its exploratory mission by visiting a water world where Troi begins to suspect not everything is kosher. Her instincts are proven right when she discovers a highly telepathic race and hears their plight. On the other side of the galaxy, the crew of the Albert Einstein explores the energy field that keeps the station trapped in the rift space it is in and they also discover that the station is hardly stable and they must all get out of the area or else all will die!

In "Homecoming," the stories resolve themselves with the shuttlecraft crew working desperately to save the lives of the beings on both sides of the station and the Enterprise crew doing its part to save the endangered creatures on the watery planet!

Michael Jan Friedman is an adept Star Trek: The Next Generation writer, and in The Star Lost, Friedman has the voices and emotions of the characters detailed well. By this point, he knows perfectly well how each of the characters sounds and he writes their voices with an accuracy that makes the stories flow well, at least in the dialogue.

Unfortunately for Friedman, he is charged with a story that essentially has two real problems. The first is that because it is a comic book, the reader knows everyone (with the possible exception of Faraday) will survive because they are in the television series. Friedman isn't going to be given license to kill off a main character - much less three - in the comic books. As a result, there is no real doubt that by the end the characters will all be reunited and the net effect of this little adventure will be . . . nothing. Friedman is not at liberty to make the characters come together any better as a result of this and as a result, the overall concept falls slightly down.

As well, Friedman works very well and very safely within the confines of the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe. He safely explores the predicaments of the crew of the Albert Einstein with little sense of consequence or reality. Riker and his team quickly join the right side and begin to work together in a very StarFleet way. In other words, no one gives up and, of course, good teamwork saves the day.

Further strikes against the stories in The Star Lost are related to the artwork. Pablo Marcos, who provided the artwork for the comic books as penciler, 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. In this collection, he is the inker and penciler Peter Krause takes the blame for the artwork. 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. As well, the aliens on the station look terrible and some of the background aliens are little more than stick figures (I wish I were joking). Krause sticks with it, but the artwork only improves slightly for the final portion, probably to sell the 24th issue at the time. People who are buying double-sized tend to want to get their money's worth!

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. However, his take on Troi, especially, works and it is hard to criticize him for giving Troi a decent part, as he does.

The result is a book that fans are more likely to enjoy, but does not hold up over multiple reads, at least by general science fiction fans. This has a very "comic book" feel to it because, well, it was a comic book. But unlike works unique to comic books, there are too many constraints Friedman has to work with and as a result, this is likely only to please those already biased toward such a work.

As far as the Star Trek: The Next Generation comics go, though, this is one of the better ones and fans will appreciate that.

For other Star Trek: The Next Generation graphic novels, please check out:
The Hero Factor
The Battle Within


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

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

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