Thursday 27 March 2008

Alien Spotlight: Borg and Romulan reviews

A wee bit late... but to complete my collection of reviews for this outstanding miniseries from IDW, here are my thoughts on the final Alien Spotlight issues:

The Borg
I best declare my interests before I get going on this one; I love the Borg, unlike many of my fellow Trekkies I have absolutely no problem with how they've been developed over the years and welcome any new story to feature them. So I awaited this issue eagerly - And boy was it worth the wait. By far the strongest issue in the entire Alien Spotlight miniseries, and quite possible the best from IDW Star Trek to date, the Borg issues delivers on every level.

The story is, if you read it too quickly (as my first over eager zooming read was) is a little technobableful. But if you take it at a sensible pace it makes sense (as much as technobable can) and is a very interesting premise; The future Borg, having successfully reached perfection decide the only way they can improve things further would be to send a wave of assimilation back through time and assimilate everyone and everything at the genetic level from year dot. Fortunately for our intrepid heroes on the Enterprise-E the Borgs’ method provides enough warning to do something about it.

The issues features guest appearances from two other starships, Admiral Janeway, Captain Amasov, Species 8472, Guinan, Geordi's VISOR and a neat tie in, via time travel, to the Borg's early incursions along the Romulan neutral zone (as investigated in the episode "The Neutral Zone" and seen in a Marvel comic "Operation: Assimilation")

The story concludes with Picard essentially talking the Borg out of it, which might sound ridiculous but works perfectly, very Picard. The only thing close to wrong with this story is there is so much happening, one feels it could have easily expanded to two or three issues. That said unlike some of IDW's other Trek comics the book doesn't suffer for this, it might be packed in, but it doesn't jump about and become nonsensical in the slightest.

Perhaps even better than the story, the artwork for this issue is exceptional. Beautiful, elegant and superbly stylised, every element of the artwork in the issue shines, the strong lines of starships and scenery, the exotic alien landscapes, dynamic and easy to read characters, and some delightful subtle colouring - everything is spot on.

I hope to see a lot more from both the writer Andrew Steven Harris (time permitting from his Trek editorial role) and artist Sean Murphy. Both have delivered a truly exceptional issue. If you buy one Star Trek comic this year, make it this one.

The Romulans
The final issue of this series features the Romulans, another favourite Trek alien race of mine, so another much anticipated issue. And to my great pleasure another successful piece of work from the IDW team. This issue was written and illustrated by John Byrne, a noted comic creator so IDW promotions have repeatedly told me in the months leading up to this release. For better or worse my knowledge of comics is very much limited to Star Trek comics so the name along is not enough to woo me into blind praise. Thankfully, for the most part, Byrne delivers the promised goods.

The story for this issue is that of a prequel, as made clear in said promotions to the first Romulan episode Balance of Terror, but to my surprise and great pleasure also to the episode The Enterprise Incident as this issue sets up the Klingon Romulan alliance first observed in that episode. The plot essentially follows two people, the Romulan commander, solemnly doing his duty, and the new Romulan praetor.

This is a story that's been itching to be told since Balance of Terror aired; the background of the Romulan commander. This issue introduces us to his friends and family and gives us an incite into his mindset; loyal to the empire, and resigned to his fate. The secondary tale of the praetor and the formation of the alliance with the Klingons was a welcome surprise and one I'd love to see expanded upon in future issues (fingers crossed for something in the forthcoming Enterprise Experiment miniseries which is to features both races)

Where the story shines, the artwork fails to step up to the mark. While very little can said to be bad per say, the look of the entire issue is very dated. It would perhaps well less so if it didn’t stand in such strong contrast to the rest of the miniseries and indeed the rest of IDW's Star Trek output which is distinctly contemporary. I feel Byrnes forthcoming Assignment Earth miniseries will benefit from it's setting so far detached from the rest of the Trekverse where this dated look might actually work quite well, but for this issue I feel it's just underwhelming.

All that said the art does it's job, and is certainly bold and colourful, which I’m sure many would argue favours it's TOS setting. The story is strong enough to pull it all through and the whole book is an enjoyable read.

The miniseries
So, six issues done and dusted how did Alien Spotlight fare? Very well indeed, this has perhaps finally bettered IDWs early great success with Klingons: Blood Will Tell. With the exception of the slightly mundane first issue on the Gorn the series delivers some very very strong stories, with the diversity of settings, subjects and creators preventing the series ever coming close to stagnation and every issue clearly showing a complete and engaging story can be pulled of in twenty-two pages with no problems at all - putting The Space Between and Year Four to shame.

I eagerly await the next Alien Spotlight series, and have a host of new writers and artists I would love to see IDW use again. If you haven’t picked them up individually I thoroughly recommend getting the omnibus book when it comes out. Alien Spotlight the best IDW has given us so far, you won’t be disappointed.

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