Sunday 12 July 2009

IDW review catch-up

So, I am Way behind on my IDW reviews, the last one I did was The Enterprise Experiment (which I blame for creating my review delay period as the final issue was three and a half months late getting to the UK!). So here is a little review catch-up for all but the most recent series to have finished since then.

Assignment: Earth
Starting with the best I think, I have no doubt in proclaiming Assignment: Earth the best Star Trek comics IDW have done to date, surpassing (by a narrow margin maybe) even Klingons: Blood Will Tell and the first Alien Spotlight series. My first impression of John Byrne in Alien Spotlight: Romulans was that his story telling is superb but his art a little dated; and from that I anticipated a 20th century Earth setting would play better for his art style, that seems to have been very true and indeed I have become so impressed by his artistic abilities that I now have a much greater appreciation for his comics in the 23rd century too. Byrne, in art and story telling rarely seems to go wrong, every issue is packed full story (while many other IDW comics have suffered from seeming to skip through a story not squeezing any depth into the 22 pages), remarkably in several issues of the series Byrne doesn't even use all 22 pages, and provides additional 2 and 3 page stories on top of the main feature. His artwork has a definite style that did take me a while to get used to, his way of drawing people is very much his own, but once you do get the hang of it is really quite fantastic; pages of dynamic and interesting panel layout, action and ideas. In short I am fully converted Byrne fan; if his name is on the comic I know it's going to be pretty damned good.

The notion behind this series is that it is the Gary Seven TV series that never was, and for this series it really works; the pacing and the framing of certain shots (while not sacrificing anything from the comic book format) really give a sense of television. However we also get the added benefit of looking back at the setting from a modern perspective, allowing the books to be peppered with historical references and give some really nice incites into the era.

Each issue of the series has it's own title, which is something of a rarity and much appreciated - IDW have done many series of done-in-one stories, yet so few of those stories are assigned anything more than an issue number, seems odd to me. The stories fit with the era and the themes of Assignment: Earth; lots of espionage, conspiracy, futuristic technology and alien intervention. We get an issue tying in with Tomorrow is Yesterday, and a sequel to the episode Assignment: Earth.

I think the balance of this series just right, we get a really good mixture of history, fun spy stories, exciting science fiction ideas and a general sense of fun. I cannot wait for the next series Assignment: Earth stories; this one was practically flawless and fun throughout.

Mirror Images
Especially considered this series came from the reliably brilliant team of the Tipton Brothers and David Messina, I was a little under-whelmed by this romp into the mirror universe. The five issue series has a four part TOS tale, showing how Kirk took command of the Enterprise from Pike, with a single issue TNG interlude showing a parallel tale of Picard taking command of the ISS Starbreaker.

The TNG tale I really enjoyed, as a single-issue story it seemed a lot more focus, it had a story to tell and got on with it. The TOS story on the other hand really seemed to drag on. Each issue of the series seems rather light on content, each with its own little sub-plot building up the series arc, but none of the issues' individual stories felt very big or engrossing. Messina's art is its usual top quality, but there are a lot of big empty panels in this series because there just isn't the story to fill the issues. Overall a disappointment for me. If you like TOS (and Pike, I'd say Pike was the biggest draw for me in the series) and the mirror universe you'll likely enjoy it for what it is, otherwise I'd give it a miss.

Romulans: The Hollow Crown
John Byrne returns to Romulus for this two-part sequel to his Romulan Alien Spotlight. The story shows the development of the Klingon-Romulan Alliance, and particularly how the Klingons are essentially in control, manipulating the Romulans to be their pawns to fight the Federation as a way round the Organians not letting the Klingons do it themselves.

I really enjoy seeing the political side of Star Trek, so this is very much my kind of story. But that's not all this series about; its main characters include the family of the Romulan commander from Balance of Terror (and the preceding alien Spotlight). It's a very well crafted and thoroughly engrossing story, and I can't wait to see where it continues to in the forthcoming Schism series. Another win for Mr Byrne.

The Last Generation
Well before I even get into the comics, a comment on the title: Early covers for the series had the classic TNG title with the Next crossed out and Last graffitied in its place. Neat, makes sense, works with the play on the title, good job - So then for the final release we don't get that but "Star Trek: The next Generation - The Last Generation", completely ruins the title for me, what a waste of word play. Anyway...

The Last Generation is the first Myriad Universes comic, and it's nice to see the concept expanding across from Pocket Books even if the level of crossover is limited to the title. Andrew Steven Harris previously gave the amazing Alien Spotlight: Borg, so I was looking forward to seeing what he came up with next, and was not disappointed. The series shows us the TNG gone wrong after Captain Braxton of the 29th century made a mess of the timestream and went and got the Federation president assassinated at Khitomer. The first four issues show how Picard's resistance movement on Klingon occupied Earth plan to undo the changes and area a lot of fun, with your usual alternate reality bringing familiar faces together in new ways kind of thing. The final issue goes back in time and gives a slightly confusing conclusion where Braxton's attempts to stop what seemed to be the end of the universe are halted by Picard and co so that the Federation can live on - with the TNG gang now lost back in time and started another alternate timeline! I don't know if Harris was hoping to set up for a sequel here; Braxton's motivation for changing the timeline in the first place seem to have been left wide open for some future story telling to actually fix the timeline. But I digress, confusing time travel stuff aside the series is a lot of fun.

Now the art on the other hand... It is a complete mystery to me why Gordon Purcell's artwork is apparently so popular - so what if he can do decent likenesses of the cast, so can every other artist IDW use! I find Purcell's artwork clunky, and in particular his way of drawing people in poses looking incredibly unnatural and awkward. He did a better job making the comics visually engaging in this series than The Enterprise Experiment, but I'm still not won over by him and am sure if the series had been illustrated by someone else I would probably have enjoyed it twice as much.

Altogether though, not a bad effort, but room for improvement...

The movie prequel. Well after seeing the film I think this series did a good job of setting up Nero, who was otherwise the most simplistic two-dimensional bad guy ever. It's a bit of a shame that in the actual film Spock seems to imply he didn't really know Nero before, but if you overlook that the backstory presented in Countdown adds a lot.

The series is also a sequel of sorts to TNG, with mixed results. Irrespective of how obvious it was to do so I'm glad to see Data back, he's my favourite TNG character and that was pretty obviously the intent if Star Trek XI had been The Search for Data. Making him captain of the Enterprise and dumping Picard on Vulcan I'm less pleased about, but it's some years into the future, and in some ways good to see the TNG characters diversifying as they move on through life, not forever on the Enterprise like the old TOS crew...

The series was illustrated by David Messina, so obviously looks fantastic and has plenty packed in to enjoy, there's never a dull moment visually or story-wise. Another winner for IDW I think.

The Wrath of Khan
Hmm... Well for starters, I just don’t see the point in doing a comic book adaptation of a film; they are two completely different forms of story telling, designed from the off to be told in different ways. And I can see even less point in doing one of a film nearly three decades old - if they had done an adaptation of the new film it would least serve as a stop gap until the DVD release! Which brings me to another point, why make a fuss about this being the only TOS film not to have been turned into a comic and then ignore the film released now!

Anyway, we all know the story, Mr Schmidt did a perfectly adequate job chopping it into three parts, well done. And then we get to the art, which can be reasonably summed up as "yuck"; a big fuzzy blurry mess throughout with painfully odd facial expression from page to page. About the only part of the art that I found in any way presentable was the nice swirly nebula effects...

In conclusion, get the recently released bluray and enjoy the film as it was intended.

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