Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Catch Up - Graphic Novel Collection Issues Eight to Eleven

A busy few weeks have meant that I've neglected SKoST somewhat.

It also meant that there was a pile of reading mounting up at my bedside that was begging for my attention. Aside from a couple of novels there were also four of the Eaglemoss Graphic Novel Collection waiting to be opened.

Starfleet Academy (issue eight) is one that Ian Kimmins covered on here last year so I'll drop a link back to his review here for reference. Personally I found this to be a great read if a little predictable by the end. There are definite echoes of Cause and Effect running through the story plus (unintentional?) parallels to the backstory covered off in the brilliant The Pegasus also from The Next Generation.

Set in the Kelvin timeline, Starfleet Academy returns old faces Kirk and Uhura during their time at the facility and then a group of five cadets from three years later. The two stories interconnect as you would expect and while the story isn't overly original it is well written and beautifully rendered, a genuine pleasure to read.

Issue Nine was probably the biggest draw for me from this set of four we're reviewing here, taking us away from IDW and to Marvel for the first time. This time we're diving into The Early Voyages - or at least part one of The Early Voyages in this case. Choosing to step back in time, this series returned us to the captaincy of Christopher Pike and these initial four stories take place in the time leading up to the events of The Cage.

Instead of just running a series of stories which bring us to that familiar moment in franchise history, The Early Voyages utilises the perspective of various characters to tell events from their angle. We get to see Pike take command from Robert April, experience the perils of "that" mission which took place before The Cage from the viewpoint of Pike's yeoman and get an incredibly candid view of the Enterprise from Yeoman Colt when she is quickly assigned to the ship.

While Colt's story does, to some degree, retread the events of the pilot episode it is also the one which resonates the most in the four tales. Unquestionably it will forever put a different spin on The Cage when you understand the background to events  but I also suspect it has the strongest connection since we already know of these events.

The level of tension, storytelling and general Star Trek ambiance with The Early Voyages is definitely an experience and I look forward to seeing where this line of tales is heading.  The recreation of the events from the pilot are beautifully done with the added twist of being from another character's perspective which helps keep it fresh while adding to the mythology of the episode at the same time.

Third is possibly the most disappointing of the batch. For those of you familiar with the series, each edition comes with a headline story plus one of the Gold Key 1960's/1970's comics thrown in for weight and good measure. With issue 10 we get a whole volume dedicated to the The Classic UK Comics Part One and why? I'd suggest it's because of the similarity between this and Gold Key. 

Evidently the writers and artists for the UK comics had seen a Star Trek episode in passing so we get stories which are extremely outlandish, have a range of very retro '50's style additional vehicles, the Enterprise landing at one point and even a strange foreshadowing of The Planet of the Apes crossover with the crew meeting a race of simians. As with those Gold Key tales these have to be read to be believed and really do go to the all-out extremes of pulp sci-fi and are just jam-packed full of errors that show a latent inexperience with the series. Each story is split into four parts with each part contained across a double page spread. This is wonderful because it means there's a ridiculous amount of Star Trek crammed in but the way in which it's bound means that all the central panels lose parts of speech or their art into the binding strip.

To be honest I could have done without hitting this volume because the quality is as questionable as that of the Gold Key archive - in fact it's near as hell the same although they have managed to at least get the uniforms fairly correct. It's also a volume you just can't sit down and consume in a single sitting. With Nero, Spock or Starfleet Academy the layout is far less cramped and chaotic than in these 40 year old narratives. They're much easier to digest and the artwork is more precise. Because of the size of the text and the pictures it does take more time to work through the volume and I've digested it over a fair few days. In that respect at least you're getting your money's worth!

The Classic UK Comics are an experience and the appearance of David Bailey rather prominently suggests that the writers might only have managed to see a handful of the earliest first season episodes (since Bailey is from The Corbomite Maneuver) and as Chekov is not even a glimmer in anyone's eyes. Teleporters are back too but a good 1950's style transport is always preferred if there's the option. Watch out for the appearance of "Captain Kurt" in the first couple of stories as well as the sudden turn to red and blue shirts in the later stories in this volume. Notable too how the artwork changes when the series transfers into the TV21 comics. As to why there's the movie Enterprise on the cover, God knows.

Finally there's The Next Generation's Intelligence Gathering. Now if you flash back to issue five's The Space Between the format is virtually the same with a series of individual stories all linking back together in the final part. Here in issue 11 the main protagonists are the Romulans but there are a series of other circumstances in play.

Set during the fifth season of the TV show, every main character is included plus there are appearances from Chief O'Brien (how does he keep busy down there - it's even commented on!), Ro Laren and even Barclay. It's an enjoyable romp across the galaxy allowing dedicated time for each of the main cast although I did find the conclusion a little lame even to the point where it seems the writer is pointing out the same thing. 

The one thing that is strong across three of the four volumes noted here is the artwork. That of Starfleet Academy and Intelligence Gathering is very similar and while The Early Voyages is perhaps more free-form and sketched, it's still wonderful to read through and easy to follow. That's a key thing that distinguishes the work from the 90's and later to that from the 60's and 70's. It's not as compacted and hard to walk through, the panel work is obvious and neatly set out but the substance that was present in some of the Kelvin timeline stories isn't quite there. It's as though the graphic novels seem to accommodate and suit the new generation of Star Trek stories rather than the Prime Universe. Might the same be said for the upcoming Discovery?

Each of the novels - except for The Classic UK Comics - comes with the statutory Gold Key archive story and the three we have here are The Youth Trap, The Legacy of Lazarus and finally Sceptre of the Sun, all of which maintain the usual "high quality" stories that we have come to expect from the previous editions. Absolutely entertaining with only a shred of Star Trek DNA running through its veins and as I said, this shares more than a few traits with The Classic UK Comics. I would run through the stories from the archive but I've tended to find myself repeating the same few lines. Once more - have a read, they're a lot of fun and a bit hokey. Fans of canon Star Trek will have hours of entertainment ripping apart the inaccuracies while for others they will make a nice change of pace and scenery from the more recent IDW offerings.

As for subscribers, this month we saw the arrival of the Gold Key archive metal covers. The quality of both of these items is excellent and luckily, if you don't have the wall space to space what with all those posters and Jonathan Frakes autographs, the tin that's designed for the movie posters is a perfect fit to store them in. Nice move, Eaglemoss, nice move.

Up next we have The Edge of the Universe and then the UK Marvel Comics Part I

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