Monday 4 February 2008

Year Four review

IDW's first Year Four miniseries concluded a couple of weeks ago, here's what I thought:

Issue 1, well lets sidetrack to the series in general for a moment, here is my first problem with this series; no titles! The series works hard to emulate episodes of The Original Series but misses that key element, and makes the issues so much less identifiable, just a number. Big mistake I think.

Anyway, issue 1 kicks of the series with very classic TOS feel, a scientist, an alien laboratory, a pretty girl, love, deception, etc. All the elements are there, it genuinely feels like it could be a lost episode of the series, with one exception; length/pacing; the story has a good set up, an interesting middle and then bam, all of a sudden it's finished - the story tied up in one page with a monologue from the guest character. The ending was really quite unsatisfying, and all the more annoying for the amount of space given to doing very little earlier in the issue (an issue with the art I will get to later) which means the ending gets compressed and tagged on the end. Nice ideas though, just could have been executed a little better.

Issue 2, well there are some plot holes to navigate, but all in all this is a nice parallel tale to the present day situation with oil and terrorism, essentially taking a couple of elements of the current situation in Iraq and putting them in outer-space. And bravo too, that works pretty good, and is again so very TOS. The story isn't perfect, but a good try.

Issue 3, sound based aliens take over the Enterprise, good concept, once more it feels so much like a TOS episode it could be one. The story feels a little rushed, but not so much it causes any damage, and it all makes sense. Good issue.

Issue 4, TOS meets extreme reality TV, another excellent commentary on a contemporary issue, though the crew’s final solution for getting out of the jam they get into seems a little too easy and makes the bad guys look rather silly. This is a great issue in concept and TOS issue style, but I feel it also suffers from working to hard to emulate a TV episode. The guest aliens are human, right down to the costumes. Now yes TOS did this plenty, but this is a comic not a TV episode limited by budget and available effects technology, it is possible to show anything in a comic and it's disappointing IDW didn't take the opportunity to exercise their imaginations here.

Issue 5, or "The Immunity Syndrome version 2". This issue has a cool opening scene but quickly goes down hill. The concept draws from present day science of particle accelerators, but doesn't do anything other than transplant it to the 23rd century - and bizarrely has the Enterprise personnel in sole responsibility for a massive science project which would surely have a team of scientists working on it for years before. Where on earth were they? This issue relies heavily on the art to portray the danger everyone is in and flatly fails, panel after panel of a slightly different blue blob result in no menace what so ever. If you were planning to pick up select issues of this series, this is one you'd have little loss from missing.

Issue 6, and fortunately the series is back on form for the conclusion. Another successful commentary on a present day (or slightly in the future) issue of cloning/designer babies/breeding armies - it's not exactly a new concept but it was well executed here. A suitably attractive female crewperson is featured as the guest star alongside a rather bizarrely designed alien robot. And other than the design of said robot this issue is win win win.

Now, where this series really disappointed was the artwork. The decision was made to set out all (but a handful of flashy full pages) of the pages in an arrangement of four wide rectangles, apparently to emulate a widescreen television screen to further the idea these are lost episodes (ignoring TOS episodes would have been 4:3). The first issue really managed to show what a horrible idea this was with this two page spread:

You couldn't make a less visually interesting, and more visually irritating, pair of pages if you tried. Examples such as this seem to forget TV images are not static, in a long scene like this there would be cut-away, close ups, reaction shots etc.

This format also results in full quarter of a page panels being wasted on the most tedious action, which then leads to pages where very little happens as each panel slowly goes through whatever event is happening. This has had a dramatic effect on the pacing, gobbling up pages with almost nothing happening and then cramming in information to bigger scenes which don’t have enough space left to breath. I really hope IDW don’t go with this layout for the next miniseries.

Aside from the layout the art for the series is pretty good. Steve Conley, who did three issues, provides rather flat art which I'm sure is an acquired taste. I certain preferred the issues by Gordon Purcell and the Sharp Brothers where the art was much more detailed and engaging.

A Conley Kirk, a Sharp Kirk and a Purcell Kirk

Overall, a combination of the panel layout problems and David Tischman's swift and jumpy story telling could have killed this series. Fortunately Tischman does have great skill in portraying the voices of the characters, and the concepts for each issue are both very interesting and delightfully loyal to The Original Series. IDW set out to have these feels like lost episodes, and they have succeeded.

This series was engaging and enjoyable, and for anyone who hasn't picked them up I would thoroughly recommend getting the omnibus when it comes out in March. A short while ago while reviewing IDW’s first year I put this miniseries right at the bottom of what IDW has done so far. I still don’t think it's up there with Klingons: Blood Will Tell or some of the exceptional issues in the Alien Spotlight series, but it's certainly level pegging, if not maybe even pushing ahead of, The Space Between. And even if it is near the bottom, the pile it supports is all high quality stuff, so really, its not so bad. Keep up the good work IDW, I look forward to the next series of Year Four, Five and beyond.

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