Trouble with Comics

ADD Reviews Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series

Neither comics nor art, Abrams ComicArts has nonetheless done a spectacular job compiling Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series into a delightful, compact hardcover. I can remember seeing these trading card packages in my childhood. I was ten the year they were originally issued, in 1976. That was ten years after the original series debuted, seven years after it was canceled and three years before its second life began in earnest with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But I don’t remember for certain if I ever owned any of them; I suspect I did, because some of the individual cards seem familiar to me, but certainly I never had a complete set. So the nostalgic and historic value of this book to me, as someone with an enormous interest in Star Trek (especially the original series) is huge.


Abrams has some fun with the presentation; the dustjacket of this little hardcover (by Paula Block and Terry Erdmann) is made of wax paper, the same kind the cards were wrapped in. So there’s a tactile thrill from the first time you pick up the book. They also include four new cards in a packet inserted into the book, in the style of the original cards, both as added-value and to remedy the strange fact that George Takei’s Mister Sulu is not featured on any of the original cards, only the back of his head in one shot of the Bridge’s viewscreen from the Captain’s perspective. The back of Billy Blackburn’s head makes it into that shot too, Trek Trivia lovers. If you don’t know who Billy Blackburn is, you’re probably not a Trek Trivia lover, but that’s okay. You might still find it amusing that Blackburn is found on two of the cards, unless of course you’re George Takei.

The book presents the front and back of all 88 of the original Topps Star Trek cards, featuring a little over half of the 79 episodes of the original series; an interesting introductory essay explains a lot of the history behind the set, including the fact that a second set would likely have covered the remaining episodes, but no second set was ever issued. An explanatory paragraph discusses some aspect of each card, providing background, insight or trivia.

The cards are featured warts and all, so typos like a misspelling of Walter Koenig’s last name or including Lt. Uhura on a list of “The Men of the Enterprise” remain charmingly in evidence. If you love the original Star Trek, whether you have any interest in trading cards or not (put me in the “not” category), Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is a fascinating piece of history, educational and fun, brilliantly packaged in such a way as to authentically evoke the era and the artifacts. The only thing missing is the gum. (Actually, they thought of that too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

IDW′s Elder Gods, Young Pups and Old Fogies

Eternal Descent Vol. 2 #1

My first thought looking at the cover, which features a long-haired rocker holding a glowing red guitar, was that this book was going to be stupid, and might very well have been written by a musician. Sometimes my instincts are right. With a childishly breathless pace, our rocker hero is carried off by a magical guitar to another dimension, where a demon and his bustier-clad demoness pose and sneer while apparently the whole multiverse is in jeopardy from something. It takes two writers, two pencilers, three inkers and two colorists to produce this unreadable mess. I wondered how it even got made, and the secret might be that it′s just a cynical promotional deal, as co-writer Llexi Leon is a guitarist, with ads in the back of the comic featuring him plugging Ovation guitars and DiMarzio pickups. There′s an ad for a guitar pedal on the back, featuring Lyra artwork (I think she′s the slutty demoness but doesn’t have horns on her head here), with tones programmed by Leon. Industrious guy, just not a writer. This all may make a bit more sense to those who read Vol. 1, but there is no attempt to help a new reader out.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Chris Roberson and Jeffrey & Philip Moy offer up a meeting of two beloved franchises, and it really should have worked better than it does. Ive read decent work from Roberson, and IDW has done a great job overall with their Star Trek comics, but this one falls flat. Part of it is underwhelming art, especially after the terrific job on Star Trek #1, and part of it is that the entire issue goes by and the two teams haven’t met. Roberson instead is more interested in cutting between both teams being ordinary until they both find themselves on an alternate 33rd Century Earth. Its delivered as a big cliffhanger, a big surprise to both, but any reader would pretty much expect it would take an alternate timeline or some other typical contrivance to get these characters together. The fun part had to be how these characters relate to each other. Spock to Brainiac-5, Kirk to Cosmic Boy and so on. Me, I want the fun part to start in the first issue.

H.P. Lovecrafts The Dunwich Horror #1

Horror runs in the blood of IDW, so it’s a no-brainer that eventually they would start doing some Lovecraft adaptations. I normally like Joe R. Lansdale, though I haven’t read a lot of him, but its fair to say his style is closer to contemporary, good ol ′boy Stephen King than the Gothic stylings of Lovecraft. And indeed, Lansdale dispenses with Lovecraft′s text entirely, offering an adaptation relying heavily on the common speech dialogue of a group of four occult thrill seekers and the visuals of Peter Bergting to convey the horror of rural New England. I don’t have a problem with iPhones in a Lovecraft story, really, but Bergting is just not up to the task. A 40 foot high mound of desiccated animals should look scarier than this. In fact, Bergting curiously deemphasizes the thing, first showing it far away, then in a small panel, and then only the base of it, always in the background while the characters blather and look only mildly unsettled if they have an expression at all. He draws a nice barn, though.

Robert Weinberg and artist menton3 then begin an adaptation of ″The Hound″ with heavily Photoshopped single page images and white cursive text overlaid. Weinberg keeps chunks of Lovecraft′s narration but the static images fail to excite. It just doesn’t feel like comics, you know?

30 Days of Night #1

Steve Niles has now made his popular series-of-miniseries-and-specials into an ongoing monthly. This should be a special event for fans, but it′s only special in the sense that Niles decides to spend only a little time with the human element, vampire investigator Alice Blood, instead focusing on the infighting of  a group of vampires, which I found much less interesting. Not helping matters at all are the chicken scratch letters of Neil Uyetake, with periods and commas so small they′′re almost invisible and the speckled background coloring effect by Jay Fotos that, along with the washed out palette, really dampens the energy of the book. In fact, my first take on Sam Kieth′′s art was that it was some of his laziest ever, but that was after reading the book at night. In daylight, I see that aside from a few flat, needlessly cartoony characters, he does some nice work here, especially on Alice, a trademark Kieth oddball chick. I was pretty underwhelmed by this one, and to be fair, there is so much vampire material around now than when Niles first started the original 30 Days, so the bar has been set higher to do something really different and compelling. Hopefully it will get there.

Cold War #1

Subtitled The Damocles Contract and further subtitled The Michael Swann Dossier, its clear that John Byrne wants to step into the ring with the likes of Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Robert Ludlum with his own take on a tough, Cold War spy. We meet Michael Swann in East Berlin as he ruthlessly kills a high-ranking Communist and then is chased by soldiers, before he escapes through the checkpoint into democratic Berlin. 

Byrne starts piling on the James Bond similarities from this point, as the recuperating Swann finds time to have sex with an appreciative nurse, and his handlers are of course stuffed shirts. Swann quits, blaming his superiors for leaks leading to his capture and near-death at the hands of his captors. Two years later (it′s never clear exactly what year this takes place in, but probably early 60s), Swann listens to a little exposition from a pretty agent about his next assignment (is he on his own now, still with MI-6, the CIA? Who knows), getting to a rocket scientist before he defects to the Soviets. It′s also not clear if hes supposed to neutralize the guy, secure his secrets or talk him out of it, maybe because Byrne thinks it′s better to end the page with the clear suggestion Swann is eating the agent out. My favorite exchange (this is pre-cunnilingus):

Miss Thorogoode: Subject: Professor Rupert Kemp. 

            Top man down at the QM Rocket Group in Sussex.

            Considered by some to be the most brilliant mind in his field.

Swann:            His field being rockets and missiles. I′ve heard of him, of course.

Dude, she just said he′s the top man at the QM Rocket Group. We can figure out that he′s in charge of rockets and missiles and not changing the watercooler bottles.

All kidding aside, it’s a lovely book to look at. An engaged Byrne can still deliver, with solid storytelling and a good variety of faces, and Ronda Pattison colors it subtly, maybe a little on the cool side but that could be a thematic decision for cold war, or just to emphasize that this is serious, adult Byrne material. Byrne does seem to be enjoying himself, as is usually the case during his IDW tenure, but I do think the book has some flaws. The sex and violence can′t cover up that every scene is something you’ve seen or read before. And as a lead, Swann is very much a cipher, a cold, amoral killer in line with Fleming′s Bond but lacking the charm the character gained in the films. It’s a handsome book, but so far kind of empty. 

—Christopher Allen

IDW’s Star Trek (Ongoing) #1

IDW is continuing the adventures of the young crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise introduced in director J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek film, and the first issue is just about everything I could have hoped for.

I wrote about my lifelong appreciation for Star Trek a few days ago, on the 45th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the original series. With that anniversary in mind, now’s a great time for IDW to launch a new ongoing series, and I am pleased that the first issue reflects the same quality and attention to detail that we’ve seen in the publisher’s other Trek offerings. From Countdown, a canonical prequel to the 2009 movie, to the movie adaptation itself, and sidelights like Nero and Spock: Reflections (both of which expanded on and enhanced the events of the 2009 movie), IDW’s creators and editors show that they get what Star Trek is about, and what a comics adaptation of it requires, more than any publisher in the history of the series. IDW’s Star Trek comics are exciting where DC’s were dull. They feel grounded in the world of Trek, unlike Marvel’s quasi-superhero tone; they make sense and the characters look and feel like the same characters we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, unlike Gold Key’s bizarre, atrocious Star Trek comics.

This new Star Trek #1 features a retelling of the second pilot from the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That was the first episode produced that featured William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and the story centered on Kirk dealing with a longtime friend and crew member, Gary Mitchell, accidentally acquiring the powers of a god in an accident at the very edge of the universe.

This new comic is and isn’t that story. It’s a perfect evocation of what I want from the new Star Trek from here on out, touching on the events of the “Prime” universe of the original Shatner/Nimoy episodes while exploring the very real consequences of the fact that history has been changed and anything can happen, now. I’m not saying every movie, comic and TV episode (if that ever happens) produced from here on out has to be based on an old story, but what I am saying is that, when appropriate, and when it can be done in a thoughtful and interesting way (as it is here), those old stories should be used as one part of the foundation of exploring the new Trek universe. Yes, new stories can and should be told, independent of all the old baggage, but the opportunity is there to have fun with a lot of the old mythology, and that’s what happens in Star Trek #1

See, in a new universe like this, branching off from an older reality because of a change in history due to time travel, some things will be exactly the same. And here, they are. Some events proceed exactly like they did in the 1966 TV episode. But some events diverge. Doctor McCoy was not yet aboard in the original episode, the ship’s doctor was a different actor. And as a result of that literally trivial fact, the Gary Mitchell story plays out differently. One key character from the episode is not present, because McCoy’s presence changes things.

Writer Mike Johnson and creative consultant (and 2009 movie co-writer) Roberto Orci introduce this idea organically and for anyone versed in Star Trek history, the result is a delightful divergence from what we know, and an indicator that we’re all coming to this new chapter in Trek history on pretty equal footing. No matter what we think we know, there are surprises ahead, and that feels pretty good. Factor in artist Stephen Molnar’s careful balance of attractive, dynamic artwork with a fidelity to the appearance of the actors who play the characters, and I really can’t imagine anyone who likes Star Trek, new or old, not loving this comic book.

Alan David Doane

A copy of this issue was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. 

Infestation #1

Infestation #1 (of 2)

Writers - Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Penciler - David Messina

Inker - Gaetano Carlucci

Additional Art - Elena Casagrande, Claudia Balboni

Publisher - IDW Publishing $3.99 USD

Mama mia, that’s a lotta mediocre Italian artists. This is the first issue of IDW’s first big licensed crossover event, with two bookend issues and then two issues each focusing on a zombie & infected robot invasion of various Earths related to the G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Trek and Ghostbusters franchises. If you’re going to put together a successful story that somehow works for all these varied properties, you can either get some top talent who are just going to let loose and make it over-the-top, goofy, balls-out fun, or you get some mid-level talent who are going to roll up their sleeves and try to actually make something sensible. Abnett and Lanning are Plan B, always competent, able to make something sturdy out of the materials at hand, but they’re never going to surprise you. It’s kind of nice that they found a way to make the IDW property C.V.O. (Covert Vampire Operations) and some of the Zombies vs. Robots characters and ‘bots into the stars here, but they’re mostly shorthand cliches like the hardass soldier dragged from retirement, ready with B-movie lines like “eat ‘em if you got ‘em.” It’s inoffensive, and it seems like one can only read the bookends and the particular franchise issues one’s interested in and get the basic story without needing all of it. Still, based on the issue itself and the two-page previews of the other first issues, having Kirk, or Optimus, or the Baroness taking on zombies and evil robots should have been a real geekgasm, a lot more fun than what’s on display here.

—Christopher Allen

(advance copy provided for review by the publisher)

This may or may not be an official promotional image for the next Star Trek movie, and technically I know it’s not well-designed, but it still gives me a Chris Matthews-like thrill up my leg. Click the picture for more info.— Alan David Doane

This may or may not be an official promotional image for the next Star Trek movie, and technically I know it’s not well-designed, but it still gives me a Chris Matthews-like thrill up my leg. Click the picture for more info.

Alan David Doane