Star Trek: The Trial of James T. Kirk

Star Trek: The Trial of James T. Kirk

By Peter David, James W. Fry & Gordon Purcell

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 315-7

This edition of Titan’s Star Trek series of graphic novels collects issues #7-12 of the DC comics series from the 1990s. Here the creators try for tense rather than action packed, with a tale of political intrigue as a coalition of alien races (the Klingons and an uncomfortably Iranian-esque fundamentalist species called Nasguls) attempt to have Captain Kirk thrown into prison.

Things come to a head when the price on the Captain’s head leads the universe’s greatest bounty-hunter to attempt his capture — almost destroying the Enterprise in the process. Kirk voluntarily surrenders himself to end the constant disruption and naturally pulls a stunt that turns all those stacked tables against his foes. This stuff is pure classic Trek. The fans loved it then and will now. It’s also a very good example of how to do a licensed property in comic form and readers and wannabe creators should buy and take note.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy 

By Peter David, Bill Mumy, J. Michael Straczynski & others

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 319-X

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with a sly pastiche of Lost in Space courtesy of Mumy and David, with art from Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr. The maturing crew find the preserved ship of a legendary family of Space Heroes, (complete with a pneumatic-tube-arm waving robot) and must help adapt to a time that has largely left them behind. There are dramas and in-jokes aplenty in this fond romp, balanced in part by Worldsinger, a more traditional Star Fleet tale from J. Michael Straczynski, Purcell and Starr as the crew must convince a poetic alien survivor not to die with his doomed homeworld.

Ken Hooper and Bob Dvorak illustrate Howard Weinstein’s Partners?, a two-parter that fills out the volume. Once again the Enterprise is in a deadly face-off with Klingons after a suspicious border incident threatens to start a shooting war.

As always, these licensed comics are a welcome treat for Trek-deprived fans and in purely strip cartoon terms they are well-written, competently drawn and thoroughly readable. The added fillip of silver screen creators can’t hurt either.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Fountain

The Fountain

By Darren Aronofsky & Kent Williams

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-171-5

Lavish companion to the Aronofsky film of the same name, this book tells of a love that challenges time itself and shows how human will is the ultimate force in the universe.

Divided into three vignettes, and interwoven with flashes forward and back along the narrative, The Fountain follows Tomas in 1535 as he ravages Central America for gold and converts, but finds instead The Tree of Life; as a desperate medical researcher in contemporary America, struggling to complete the cancer cure that will save his one, true love; and as a futuristic star-traveller seeking to restore that fabled Tree by catching a super-nova.

Lyrical and metaphysical, this pretty volume wafts along carried by the loose and evocative watercolour illustration of Kent Williams.

Completists should note that although designed as a companion to the film, that production was shut down as the book was being produced. When production was restarted, with an altered script, the Graphic Novel was completed according to the original conception. Think of it as a Directors Cut that you can read in the bathroom.

© 2005 Phineas Gage Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Blackmark — 30th Anniversary Edition

Blackmark

By Gil Kane

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-456-7

Gil Kane was one of the pivotal players in the development of the American comics industry, and indeed of the art form itself. Working as an artist, and an increasingly more effective and influential one, he drew for many companies since the 1940s, on superheroes, action, war, mystery, romance, movie adaptations and most importantly perhaps, Westerns and Science-Fiction tales. In the late 1950s he became one of editor Julius Schwartz’s key artists in regenerating the super-hero. Yet by 1968, at the top of his profession, this relentlessly revolutionary and creative man felt so confined by the juvenile strictures of the industry, that he struck out on bold new ventures that jettisoned the editorial and format bondage of comic books for new visions and media.

His Name Is Savage was an adult oriented black and white magazine about a cold and ruthless super-spy in the James Bond/Matt Helm/Man Called Flint mould, a precursor in tone, treatment and subject matter of many of today’s adventure titles. The other venture, Blackmark, not only ushered in the comic book age of Sword and Sorcery, but also became one of the first Graphic Novels. Technically, as the series was commissioned by fantasy publisher Ballantine as eight volumes, it was also envisioned as America’s first comic Limited Series.

Volume 1 was released in 1971, and volume 2 just completed when the publisher cancelled the project. Long term collaborator Roy Thomas reprinted the tales in Marvel’s black and white magazines Savage sword of Conan and Marvel Preview, with the artwork rejigged to accommodate the different page format.

Enough background. Blackmark tells the tale of a boy born into a war-ravaged and primitive future where atomic holocaust has resulted in a superstitious society that has shunned technology and science. Feudal lords rule by might and terror, whilst rebel technophiles are hunted like dogs. Whilst fleeing persecution a married couple encounter a dying scientist king who pays the woman to impregnate her with a son pre-programmed to be a messiah of science.

Blackmark is born into a life of poverty and toil. When his parents are killed by a wandering warlord he devotes his life to vengeance, and learns the physical skills necessary when he is taken for a gladiator slave. It is sadly very familiar to us today, simply because it was so influential at the time – albeit with those few original purchasers who seem to have been the next generation of comic and literary creators.

Although the tale may seem old-hat the beauty on power of the illustration has never been matched. Kane designed the pages with blocks of text as part of the whole, rather than with willy-nilly blurb and balloons to distract the eye, and his evocative figure drawing has never been as taut, tense and passionate. The script, over Kane’s story is provided by the incomparable Archie Goodwin, as much a master as Kane himself.

This compilation collects the original volumes 1 and 2 and presents them in a size much larger than the original standard paperback. As well as a fantasy masterpiece, and a spectacular comic romp, it preserves and presents a literal breakthrough in comic story-telling that should be on every fan’s must-read list.

© 2002 Fantagraphics Books & the estate of Gil Kane. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Vol 2

Star Wars Omnibus 

By Various

Dark Horse Books ISBN 1-84576-369-6

In swift succession comes the follow-up omnibus edition of the eponymous band of space pilots led by Death-Star survivor Wedge Antilles, still in that handbag-friendly size and just as packed with thrills and spills. Re-presented here are issues #9 through 20 of the Dark Horse comic book of the same long and unwieldy name, which then saw print as the graphic collections Battleground: Tatooine by Ryder Windham, John Nadeau and Monty Sheldon, Warrior Princess by Michael A. Stackpole, John Nadeau and Jordi Ensign, and Requiem for a Rogue by Stackpole, Jan Strnad, Mike W. Barr with art by Gary Erskine.

Although hardly challenging, these licensed space opera romps are competent action tales that should help plug the void caused by the hiatus of the movie franchise.

© 2006 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Death’s Head Vol 1

Death’s Head Vol 1

By Simon Furman & various

Marvel/Panini UK ISBN 1-905239-34-3
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK had very few long-term successes in its twenty-plus years as a semi-autonomous company, but the robotic bounty hunter — sorry, free-lance peace-keeping agent — was certainly one of their most eccentric. Now the current regime have released the almost complete adventures in a cheerful bookshelf edition for your nostalgia tinged enjoyment.

Along with some welcome background on the big tin guy, there’s the very first one page adventure, the team-up with the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of Dr Who, the preliminary guest shot with the futuristic paramilitary sports team The Dragon’s Claws, and then the first seven issues of his own comic book series, all lavishly re-presented for a manic metal-head’s enjoyment. The only fault to find is the necessary exclusion of the battles against those other big robotic staples of the 1980s comic scene, The Transformers. Due to pesky copyright reasons the battles from Transformers # 113-151 have been left out, but this shouldn’t mar your enjoyment of this good old-fashioned comedy action-fest.

Always played as much for laughs as thrills and mercifully short on the breast-beating angst of his Marvel contemporaries, Death’s Head was created and written by Simon Furman, and this volume has artwork from Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Liam Sharp, John Higgins, Mark Farmer, Dave Hine, Paul Marshall and Jeff Anderson

© 1986-1989, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grimjack: Killer Instinct

Grimjack: Killer Instinct

By John Ostrander & Timothy Truman

(IDW Publishing)

Grimjack originally appeared during the American comic industry’s last great flourishing in the 1980’s. Created by Ostrander and Truman as a back-up feature, he swiftly won his own title at First Comics and almost survived the company’s demise more than a decade later. In a crowded marketplace, and almost irrespective of who was doing the drawing, this hard-boiled fantasy action strip was a watchword for quality entertainment.

John Gaunt, Grimjack, is part private eye, part ronin and all-round problem solver just scratching out a living in the fantastic pan-dimensional city of Cynosure, a huge metropolis that touches every place in the multiverse at once. A combination of dry wit, dark edged fantasy, spectacular action and a willingness to take narrative risks won him a lot of loyal fans.

In Killer Instinct, Ostrander and Truman take us back to a time immediately preceding Grimjack’s first appearance to flesh out the character for the old lags whilst introducing newcomers to a fresh, vibrant anti-hero struggling against a number of corrupt power-mongers, including insane paramilitaries and expansionist vampire cliques, whilst trying to find his own way. There is action aplenty and tremendous style for fans of genre-crossing. Let’s hope this leads someone to publish all those past classics in spiffy book compilations. I know I want them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation — Maelstrom

Star Trek: The Next Generation — Maelstrom 

By Michael Jan Friedman & Pablo Marcos

Titan Books ISBN 1-94576- 318-1

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with Michael Jan Friedman scripting capable if uninspiring comics tales illustrated by veteran Pablo Marcos, and guest artists and writers Dave Stern, Mike O’Brien, Ken Penders, Mike Manley and Robert Campanella also contributing to the licensed fun.

Friedman’s adventures involve an elaborate plot by telepaths to use the crew to assassinate delegates at a peace conference, a plot by the Ferengi to illegally strip-mine a resort world, starring Riker and LaForge, and a stellar phenomenon that draws the Enterprise into a confrontation with the Romulans just as a plague of madness grips the crew. The fill-in is another “time-traveller back to fix the continuum” tale as Wesley Crusher’s attempts to improve the Transporter system go awry. Although not the best work these creators have produced, the stories are honest entertainment that should be a welcome treat for fans and are easily accessible to anyone who has seen the TV show.

tm & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.