Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Change of Pod: The Official Starships Collection Issues 112 and 113


Sense of deja vu?

Yes as this month’s ship releases from Eaglemoss contain something new - and something of a variation on a theme. 

Stepping up at issue 23 is the USS Phoenix. It was the first variant of the Nebula Class starship to recognisably appear on screen after the wreckage of the USS Melbourne in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. We had our first encounter with the Nebula Class in the form of the USS Bonchune back in issue xx and just on a cursory glance over there’s one clear difference in the form of the AWACS style sensor pod. 

However, it would be wrong to skate away a review based purely on changing one piece so let’s see if this has received any other updates since we last unpackaged a Nebula Class.

The first difference to notice is the slightly darker paintwork that's coating the Phoenix and in turn means that the brilliant aztec paint scheme really stands out on the hull. Every inch is covered, even in those hard to see niches under the saucer and around the sensor pod. Being a little darker seems to benefit the overall finished product here but the similarities between the two Nebula class vessels are very strong too, perhaps moreso than the differences.

All the windows are in the precise alignment and colours as the Bonchune and that's applicable right across the whole of the hull both primary and secondary. The detail of those windows, the phaser strips and the lifeboat hatches all contrast cleanly against this darker hull tone plus someone has taken more time to print up the ship registry. It's a more crisp decal with very defined red edging and black alpha-numerics.

The smooth hull top also includes the distinctive Galaxy Class-style bridge module and shuttlebay structure which draws your attention towards the rear. However we'll get there first because I want to make a special mention of the underside of the saucer for this one. For some inexplicable reason it's missing the ship registry.

Now the Bonchune has it and the magazine blatantly shows the Phoenix has it (even in the episode stills) but somehow it's not made it onto the finished product here.The whole of the underside is, as with the top, absolutely identical to the earlier release with some of that now cringe-worthy misalignment of windows that is expected with every metal hull.

Let's edge backwards now because the loud and screaming difference in the Phoenix is the sensor pod. While the Bonchune's wedge pod was connected to the hull with a single vertical beam, the Phoenix has two struts with one connected to each opposing edge. The wedge pod on the older model came wonky and by a tragic it-fell-off-a-shelf moment it broke and I was able to realign more precisely. Here the AWACS pod is nice and straight, equally balanced on the double struts and is wonderfully detailed. The surface has the aztec paintjob plus the Starfleet pennant as the icing on the starship cake.

The shape is a clean oval and sits atop a slot in piece which means Eaglemoss can nail out variants of the Nebula Class for years to come with whatever rear pod they want to slot on just as with the "real thing". The attachment block is, well, blocky and clearly the add-on piece here. It links down onto the secondary hull which is taken from the Galaxy Class and stuck right under the elliptical saucer section. Please note that the sensor pod also sits perfectly straight as opposed to the wedge which, before it crashed, was at a slight angle, pointing more starboard than central.

Even though it's pretty dark under there, Eaglemoss have still detailed the hull with the aztec pattern plus the windows again are identical to the layout on the Bonchune. One thing that does appear wrong are the pylons both in their shape and the finishing touches. Take a look at the photos of the original and you can see that the front should have a curve to it rather than the straight edge that is here. Again the structural error is one not corrected, it seems, from the first version. The clear answer for keeping it the same is production cost - but why if we know it's wrong and flippin' obvious on the magazine cover?!

Anyway...the nacelles are nicely finished again as previous with the translucent bussard collectors and engine grills although there's a rather wobbly feel to the whole engine assembly from the pylons down which sharply contrasts to the solid-as-hell saucer directly above. They are both well finished with the aztec paint job and the pennants but the springiness in them is troubling. Stand position still uses the nacelle grip but the stand is a better fit together and this one doesn't lean anywhere near as much as the Bonchune does. Good fit, very secure and a definite shelf-hugger.

The accompanying 16 page handbook tumbles us into The Wounded alongside some episode shots and those lovely new CG renderings which each ship in the series receives - and which show up a multitude of sins depending on which item you believe. The majority of the ship overview does relate to the incident televised plus a little background on the function of the ship, crew complement and basic armaments. A lot of this has already been used for the Bonchune but I already have to say I prefer the Phoenix as a finished model. The plan views do line up pretty well alongside the ship and even manages to keep the registry inaccuracy in place so at least the two do agree with each other this time. Production Design on Season Four deserves SO much more than a double-page spread in this magazine. 

Two sides doth zero justice and we get a few design pics that many will have seen before and nothing groundbreaking. It feels like filler and should have been treated as much more. Instead we have an overview of the fourth season which takes up six pages. Weirdly this also seems to have been tragically undercut and could we have lengthened either article out to eight pages and scrapped the other? More info on either topic would have been good but both end up very top line and skate over any real detail. You just can't cover 26 episodes that quickly nor can you explore the design of the 24th Century in a couple of paragraphs. Great topic ideas for the mag but poorly explored.

Over to issue 113 and a ship I would be hard-pushed to recognise in any of its various incarnations especially this one from Voyager; the Lokirrim Warship. As with the Bajoran Freighter/Smuggler's Ship, this one has been through the model workshop blender a few times across Deep Space Nine, Voyager and finally Enterprise in multiple altered forms. The shape we have here is from the last season of Voyager and the episode Body and Soul.

Now I’ll be straight, the ship is gorgeous which is annoying that this one-off is such a great finished product because I’d have to be guided to the episode to have a clue at recognising its rakish hull and sexy arsenal. On the positive side the detail is truly Eaglemoss at the top of their game and this is one to really experience in the flesh.

The hull is a mix of bronze, copper and grey sections with each of the colours helping to highlight a piece of the ship. At the front the bronze prongs surge forward from the main shell, bringing you back into the winglike craft. They lie either side of a central habitation/command/engineering unit marked out with cabin lights that are as always not aligned to their flippin' recesses. Get's boring to write after 113 issues but keep it coming Eaglemoss, I'm sure we can last that line out to 130 at least.

The central hull piece has a couple of raised units which appear to be photonic weapon ports with a purple toned slit-like opening as the business end. These ports also appear to the front of the wings, at the tips of the tubular (standard) weapons on the wings and also on three openings on the belly of the beast which would suggest this is very heavily armed. One thing; the shuttlebay door is painted up in a very bright white (right on the nose) which shows up precisely nowhere else in the accompanying magazine or any of the images. It could have done with being toned down a few shades as it does scream at you in comparison to the paint work on the whole of the rest of the ship.

As we head further back along the hull the copper/bronze paintwork mixes together giving an orderly but patchworked effect with venting, recessed and raised hull tech detail. If you actually look at this ship as a whole there are a lot of really neat techniques used in the building work. There are the slots within this metal upper hull at the front and to the rear, the accurate detailing of the purple photonic weapon ports we just mentioned and some stunning aztec paintwork on the underside that at first you might not spot. There's a lot of things that have been learnt, I would think, from earlier issues and attempts which might be why we are now seeing some of these more fiddly and curve-ball models coming into the collection.

Indeed, the metalwork to the rear of the Lokirrim Warship has all sorts of ups and downs and cutouts to keep your eyes entertained but I actually think the most impressive piece here are the wings.

Sweeping out majestically from either side of that central hull pod, the drooping wings carry some of that heavy arsenal both on their main surface and also on the winglets that sprout from their ends. Forged in the same single piece of metal that forms the topside of the ship, the winglets are very strong with zero movement at their tips and no movement either at the slim attachment point to the main body of the ship. In fact all of the extremities are secure on this one and they're all metal so the fragile rear-clip stand won't need to be a massive concern for shelf-fall damage.

The underneath is just as beautiful as the top. Now, remember I'm usually used to lauding praise on the "one-off's" from Enterprise that came from the minds of the CG department and you can see here that those later years on Voyager were definitely the starting point at creating such amazing digital models. 

Again there's that melding of the bronze, copper and grey elements across the surface. The bronze is the dominant space-frame colour as on top but it benefits massively from that toned aztec finish as well as a lot of callout hull elements that aren't present on the other side. There's something very insect-like about the bottom and I found that I was likening it to a wasp or a bee with some of the cross-hull markings and those two forward-thrusting prongs.

As noted there are three more of the protruding ports which look like weapon emitters equally spaced in the centre of the craft and dotted with the copper paint work. The most significant difference is the placement of the engine and its exhaust, running from just past halfway along the hull right to the back. There's no colouring at the exit point but the styling is really nice and it does feature some more tonal finishing and copper/bronze detail to bring it to life.

The only section of this one to be in plastic (aside from the stand of course) is a central arrow piece that slots into the underbelly of the Warship. The melding of the two pieces is near perfection with the plastic piece fitting exactly - and flush - into the hole. The paint job between the parts is also exact with some spot on alignment of some of the callout panel sections that are placed right across the ventral section. 

Ok, to the magazine. In the first section we are told more about the Lokirrim society and its distrust/dislike of photonic (holographic) lifeforms than we are about the ship itself. The Warship gets a few paragraphs while the people get about a page and a half(!). The CG images here make you realise that the model actually is a pretty good representation but they also point out that the ship itself is much, much more finely detailed than the finished product. Eaglemoss have done a sterling job however but there is so much that isn't quite up to where the CG images indicate it should be.

Second section in here is dedicated to the other guises by which the Lokirrim ship managed to photo-bomb its way into more episodes of the franchise at all sorts of angles and under all sorts of paintwork and appendages. Some of them you'll spot right away but there are a couple where it was hiding away in the corner. Not a ton of text here and more a chance for some sharp shots from various episodes to make you think!

Closing out is, linking to the Doctor's role in Body and Soul, an interview with the man behind that hologram, Robert Picardo. A great interview with a ton of questions I wish I'd asked when I met him for this site it's six pages of insight into the background of Voyager that's a good sit down read and thoroughly enjoyable.

A good month once again for Eaglemoss with two great models. I much prefer the Phoenix to the Bonchune and the sensor pod is extremely well finished and brilliantly more stable than the weapon wedge. Definitely love this one even though it's just an update. The Lokirrim Warship is an utter pleasure and might just pip the Phoenix as the better of the two releases. It's uncluttered and simplistic construction accompanied by the wealth of surface detail makes it a real, unexpected winner. Not one I would have recommended to get when it was announced but, surprise, surprise, I was wrong. Again.

Next month we are expecting another one from Wolf 359 with the vertically nacelled Challenger Class and one from the Enterprise data banks in the shape of the Tellarite Starship.

USS Phoenix or the Lokirrim your favourite from the month? Is it worth doing another Nebula variant?

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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Visual Varieties with the Graphic Novel Collection; Issues 16 to 19


The latest run of graphic novels from the Eaglemoss collection series has taken us into the wonders of The Next Generation with issue 16.

Ghosts is another fantastic read and the more I see of the 2000’s artwork and stories the more I kick myself rather strongly that I failed to get any of these the first time around. Damn these are great stories and so superlatively drawn by Javier Aranada. 

As with the previous offering, Intelligence Gathering, the narrative is split into five distinctive stories which all, initially, seem to be unrelated. By the final part it all weaves together seamlessly - of course. 

The big win here is just how amazing this series looks. The pencil work is crisp, the colours particularly striking and the attention to canon detail shows that the producers of the series have been keen to take note of the material they are honouring with these continuing voyages. 

The story itself is well paced although I did find that the big question that exists from the very start is fairly obvious by about half the way through. It didn’t ruin Ghosts for me but this kind of story has sort of been tackled in a similar way as far back as the first season of The Original Series and definitely in one of my favourite episodes of that show ever. Placing it into a distinctly alien and segregated world plays well for the story but it did also feel like we were treading very familiar paths - two opposing factions on a planet at the brink of war, disappearances.... it was a tad on the cliched side but it is rescued by the gorgeous look of each and every frame. 

Stepping towards the character angle the two sides in this conflict/perpetual standoff are at times difficult to distinguish between since they are - maybe intentionally - more similar than they might admit. It did mean the occasional pause just to reassure myself where I was in the big picture and maybe it would have been worth leaving a more bitter-sweet ending here rather than tying everything up so well.

Heading up issue 17 is Mirrored. Easily now my most anticipated entries into the graphic novel collection, the continuing voyages of the Kelvin timeline look just as good as they read and I might be tempting fate to say they are better than the three movies we’ve had to date.

Taking classic stories and giving them a new twist or simply exploring a new adventure, these stories from the rebooted Star Trek universe are fresh, colourful and original even when you suspect they might not be. This volume actually comprises of four tales from the alternative universe; A Redshirt's Tale, Keenser’s Story, Mirrored and Bones. The first is a rather singular version of Lower Decks focusing on the everyday events in the Iife of ‘Cupcake’ security officer Hendorff as seen in the 2009 and Into Darkness movies. A cool story recounting some of the missions we experienced but from the perspective of one of the more - disposable - members of the USS Enterprise crew. It was quite heartwarming seeing the thoughts of a junior officer in regards to the senior staff and just what hes expected to do during an ‘average’ day.

Keenser’s Story on the other hand is more an origins tale explaining his choice to leave home, to join Starfleet and end up on the icy wastelands of Delta Vega with Scotty. Having him narrate the tale does take away some of the mystery of the pint-sized alien. The story does well to cover where this alien came from but I did feel it took more away than it gave. Keenser is well written yet adding his background to the overall ethos seems superfluous. Keenser is a nice foil for Scotty but we don't need to fill out his past. 

Even if its not a necessity, I cant get enough of the fantastic artwork produced by xxx in this volume nor can I complain about the writing. Everything gels together so majestically its infuriating that the Kelvin universe gets such a good deal. Next up and the real keystone of the volume is Mirrored. Being the title story gives you a hint that this is a corker and its exactly that. Offering an alternative to the alternative timeline, a suitably goateed Spock is the tip of the iceberg with the two Johnson's providing a twist on the first Kelvin movie where Kirk is more brutal than a short-lived Nero. The changes to the timeline are even more drastic with Prime Spock even arriving just as he did in the movie but to a very different universe than he was ever expecting.

The changes here are subtle to the plot but fairly major to the characters and the writing team of Mike Johnson and F Leonard Johnson have etched just the right level of darkness into the crew to still make them recognisable and yet remain a little familiar through some of their ways. Even the usually bright and in your face artwork that comes out of most of the Kelvin stories is noticeably toned down with a lot more blacks, greys and darker shades to parallel the narrative. 

These homage stories might not get the approval of all fans because they could be seen to be ‘ripping off’ the original material but the Kelvin nuances do make you consider the what if... factor just a little more.

Following on we have the superlative Early Voyages. As I’m writing that I’m actually thinking this might be my more anticipated collection just slightly pipping the Kelvin universe. The tales of the Enterprise before Kirk and under the command of one Christopher Pike are thoroughly original and enthralling. Volume one took us right up to and into The Cage with the later pages coming from the perspective of Yeoman Colt rather than the captain and here we push forward beyond that point with more tales from the past.

What volume two does is, for want of a better cliche, build on the brilliance of volume one and takes the nuances and how hints laid out in the stories there to create more vivid representations of these crew members. Remember, we really only saw these people once in The Cage/flashback video in The Menagerie so Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett have a very clean slate from which to start their stories.
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Focusing on Pike and then later Doctor Boyce we initially get a great understanding of what made the Enterprise’s second captain tick and the kind of man he really was with a closer examination of his family life back on Earth. The relationship between Pike and his father is well written with a clear underlying love but there are some challenges brewing on the surface. I really bought into this pairing even for the brief time we were allowed into that situation. 

Boyce’s story is far  more bleak than that of his commanding officer with a literal inner voice wreaking havoc on the doctor’s sanity. A standard possession story that has evolved over a long period of time and was bubbling under in the first collection, this racing story pays off well if perhaps earlier than expected. 

Rounding out our selection for this time is the Marvel Comics Volume 2. Keeping in line with the first volume thses stories are just the right side of sanity that the Gold Key stories tend to skip roght past and disappear into the distance. At the core of the stories the writers here actually understood their source material with some sort of logic. 

The main cast are there in the right uniforms and doing, roughly the right things although their rather extreme and over regular of getting EVERYWHERE by warp even in close quarters battle situations is confusing and then some. The stories clearly have origins in genuine sci-fi lore with the basis in The Motion Picture. They are more outlandish with dragons appearing, mad aliens and humans versus machine tales that, at their heart wouldn’t have been too far removed from some of the more hokey plot twists from The Original Series.

Given the tight framing and maximum page/frame use, we get a load of stories here; The Expansionist Syndrome, Experiment in Vengeance which pits the crew against a classic cosmic cloud style alien; Domain of the Dragon God that has Kirk and the crew tussling with an Aztec-like people and forgoing the Prime Directive as only they could. Like a Woman Scorned unusually tackles an element of Scotty's past which inevitably turns out to be deadly for the Enterprise; Eclipse of Reason almost echoes the earlier Experiment in Vengeance with the Enterprise under attack again from a sister ship but this time it's being controlled by the bodiless Phaetons. Finally All the Infinite Ways is the real gem in this collection bringing back The Motion Picture's version of the Klingons and introducing McCoy's daughter Joanna. It's a damn fine story and a bit of a shame it's hidden away right in the middle of this issue.

Visually they are very crowded and cluttered stories to follow both visually and narratively. The choice of colour palette plus the printing method do make the images sketchy and scrappy that also shows the age of these tales. I remember my comics looking not too dissimilar in the mid-80's and these were only a few years before i took to this kind of literature.

Their more fantastical elements do take them a way away from the natural flow of Star Trek and the genuine feel of The Original Series. It is Star Trek visually in a clearly stronger way than Gold Key even came close to yet it seems as equally far away because of the narrative choices yet I do enjoy them more than the pulp comic style of the technically far inaccurate older work from the early ‘70s.

Talking of Gold Key as I always love to do, these four issues once again come with the back end being made up of the 1970's comic capers. In order we have The Enterprise Mutiny, Museum at the End of Time, Day of the Inquisitors and - but missing three pages due to a printing error - The Cosmic Cavemen

Still firmly entrenched in the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon adventure mould, these have just about the shape of the Enterprise right before spiralling into murderous monsters, fantastic machines and just a hint of Star Trek sprinkled in the name and the use of the characters be it in the wrong uniforms and almost unrecognisable save for Spock's ears.

I admit these are enjoyable and completist but having them in every issue is a bit of a drag especially when you've made your way through the very intense and claustrophobic narrative frames of the Marvel Comics your eyes don't get a rest. When coupled with the Kelvin universe or The Next Generation the variety is welcome and different but having two very similar styles so close does overload you a bit.

Fortunately there is the chance of a small break in each of the volumes because Eaglemoss/IDW have included pencil frames, sketches, artwork and edited clips from the stories into a separate section with some amazing stuff to see. The material for Ghosts in particular is outstanding with promo artwork and black and white frames among the panels included.

There are some classic hidden gems stuck amongst these four volumes and you do need to pick through to find them which can be a ball-ache. For my pick here I'd take Early Voyages and probably the slightly bizarre choice of the Marvel comics if only for the top notch All the Infinite Ways.

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Saturday, 2 December 2017

Radiant Defiance: Eaglemoss' Luminescent Bonus Edition


Surely with the release of the USS Enterprise, the Mirror ISS Enterprise and the SS Yorktown there are enough versions of the classic Constitution Class to go around?

Apparently not as Eaglemoss have now presented us with the first (and so far the only announced) Glow in the Dark starship, the Constitution Class USS Defiant as featured in The Tholian Web. Now, being a total sucker for that episode I had to have the Defiant. One because it's the guest starship and two; so it can sit alongside the other Defiant. But what exactly is it that makes this worth the punt at £14.99?  

Good question and there is the straight forward obvious answer because this classic does exactly what it says on the magazine and glows in the dark. As you'll spot straight away there is a distinct hue to the paintwork on the Defiant and it's nowhere near as grey as the issue 50 USS Enterprise NCC-1701. This is down to the point that the whole thing is finished off with a layer of luminescent paint which allows it to give off a radiant green glow and appear to be slipping out of phase with our universe just as she did in The Tholian Web.

It's a simple and genius idea that was neatly coupled with it's release around Halloween as something a little bit spooky and unusual. Having it glow in the dark is a cool and unique move which meant that this became an essential addition. I must at this point thank Rob Gibson for gifting this ship to me as part of a starship exchange programme(!) and I have to say I was eternally grateful for this arrival. It doesn't need too much of a tan to get that paint glowing either and within a few minutes you can see the colour change as the Defiant gives off a green, very visible tinge; it’s just as if you’re about to be transported into the Mirror Universe.

At its core though this is simply a re-registered version of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 model as featured in issue 50 but what else is there that might interest and make you want to part with your hard-earned moola?

The other clear difference is the yellowed bussard collectors tipping the warp nacelles and which give off an equally lovely green glow in low lighting. Taking a look over the hull we evidently have the NCC-1764 registry to denote that this is the USS Defiant and that’s spotted on the underside of the saucer and on the war engines along with being emblazoned across the top and front of the circular primary hull.

The primary hull, in metal is nicely detailed with a few call outs, minor red stripe decals and a smooth finish mirroring her more famous sister ship from the collection. There are a couple of smudges around the registry but they are almost unnoticeable unless you're really, really looking. We still have that annoying gap around the lower third of the secondary hull however but on the Defiant it seems that the slight tonal change in the paint and the choice to dowse her in a final luminescent overcoat has almost hidden the seam. I say almost because near the shuttle bay it is all too evident and just as gappy as version one - which is pretty much what we have here anyway. 

At the from of the engineering hull there's that glaring orange translucent deflector dish. After the various attempts at this model you would have thought Eaglemoss could have AT LEAST for it painted a more appropriate colour? I understand the yellow bussard collectors because it adds to the glow in the dark effect but the deflector is just damn wrong. Can we get one a more golden colour in the future IF there's another variant? (Wait for a USS Comstellation to be announced)

In reference to the underside of the saucer its good to point out that the raised triangular hull sections do align perfectly to the darker grey paint which highlights them and that all the windows aren't out of sync as there are no recessed window bays on the whole model. The white markings for the bridge, lower sensor dome and two at the rear of the saucer are tightly painted in with no bleed into the rest of the hull - something i also noted about the four grey piping sections at the rear of the warp engines.

The challenge I would have with this one is that the finish does seem a little sloppy in places with the paint being scuffed in a couple of spots which does - and will - play havoc with my OCD.  Watch out for that stand clipping as well as I noted in the original NCC-1701 review it was tight then and nothing has really changed with the Defiant. The last thing you want is to rub off the glow in the dark paint effect with two perfectly straight stand lines behind the bridge. Also, minor that it is, but my port warp engine does have a slight lean towards its starboard relation at the back end. Ever so slight but you do catch it out of the corner of your eye on occasion. 

What does make the price tag a little sweeter is the inclusion of the USS Defiant Glow in the Dark bonus edition magazine. Now, I may have mentioned my love of The Tholian Web in this article and maybe the odd occasion before so I continue to be obsessively biased towards this one. The magazine, for me, is a huge indulgence going into the background of the Defiant not just in the classic episode I cherish so much but also into the sequel/prequel that was Enterprise’s In a Mirror, Darkly.

It is a real treat covering the creation and then the REcreation of the classic bridge for the starship plus we have words from writer Judy Burns who was responsible for coming up with the concept of The Tholian Web and the starship Scimitar (they'll never use that name...!) that would morph fully into the realised TV installment. 

At the heart of this bonus edition there is very little new as we saw with the three Mirror Universe editions however the background included in the magazine and the minor tweaks plus the rather personal love of the story make it a must in my books. Maybe for some it’s the issue too far and that gimmick that doesn’t need to be bought - heck, I felt the same about the SS Yorktown and the change of a few decals. Cool if repetitive addition that might well be a money-grabber but hell, it’s something different!

For the full review of the original USS Enterprise from The Original Series follow the link here or you can visit the full Some Kind of Star Trek Eaglemoss The Official Starship Collection vault here.

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