Monday, April 30, 2007

Star Trek: Klingons: Blood Will Tell #1

Star Trek: Klingons: Blood Will Tell #1, April 2007, IDW Publishing
writers: Scott Tipton and David Tipton
artist: David Messina
art assistance: Elena Casagrande
colorist: Ilaria Traversi
letterer: Neil Uyetake
editors: Dan Taylor and Chris Ryall

Warp drive. Transporters. Replicators. Despite all of the incredible technological strides Star Trek credits humanity's future, in my opinion the hardest aspect of Roddenberry's epic for me to understand is the Prime Directive -- the objective study and understanding of otherworldly cultures. In an age when even our most beloved celebrities like Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and Don Imus cannot embrace the human diversity in their very midst, I wonder if mankind will be so prepared to accept different alien cultures in just a few hundred years. Captain James T. Kirk was the personified epitome of this struggle; while he shared Starfleet's vision to explore "strange new worlds," his blatant prejudice toward the Klingon Empire was evident every time his Enterprise encountered them. Further, since Kirk was our captain, we, the audience, believed in his presuppositions, assuming his rage was righteous -- so much so that some Trekkies might consider my term "prejudice" too harsh. Kirk was one of us, from Earth, so we had every reason to relate to him.

Either way, IDW Publishing dares to test the bounds of their latest incarnation of the Star Trek universe by giving the most challenging culture in mankind's future history, those damn Klingons, the chance to tell their side of the story . . .

Star Trek: Klingons: Blood Will Tell is one of the most ambitious Star Trek comic book efforts to date; while each Trek TV series (except Enterprise, I believe) has had its own comic book adaptation in the past, only Marvel's Starfleet Academy has had the least correlative ties to previously aired material, "boldly going" where no supplemental Trek media had gone before. With just a few issues of Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between under their belt, IDW is taking a huge risk in marketing and distributing a series about Klingons prior to their next project, Star Trek: Year Four, the fourth year of the Original Series' five-year mission. Klingons may be Trek's most widely recognized alien contribution to sci-fi/pop culture, but do they enamour fans enough to carry their own five issue mini? Indeed, as its title suggests, their blood will tell.

As I've explained before, I was a diehard fan of The Next Generation as a kid, but I was disconnected from the series in its latter seasons, and regarding the other series, I'm a casual fan at best. I don't speak Klingon, and I'm not familiar with Empire history as much as the hardcore Trekkie would be, so if this series betrays any previously established lore, I wouldn't know. Further, while I know each issue in this series is to tell the other side of a classic Trek tale, I had to Google the specific episode title and summary. (I can say that I have seen the catalyst episode "Errand of Mercy," just a few weeks ago on TV Land, in fact. I'm not completely lost in space here.) All that is to say, I'm reviewing this issue as a comic book first, and as a contribution to the Trek franchise second. The way I see it, even if Blood Will Tell offers a few points of discontinuity, simply being a good comic book is contribution enough.

And, indeed, it is a good comic book. Writers Scott and David Tipton waste no time delving into the multi-faceted aspects of Klingon culture, first establishing the ongoing perspective of a council member whose vote will sway the Empire's burgeoning alliance with the Federation, then the doomed captain of a Klingon warship that dares to engage some constitution class starship called Enterprise. In just a few pages we see both the political and practical sides of war, in the allegorical way that Roddenberry often sought with his "wagon trail to the stars." (Insert comparisons to the war in Iraq here.) Then, enter Commander Kor from the second season Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy," and his plight with Captain Kirk over the pivotal planet Organia. In a nutshell, the pacifist people of Organia allow the Klingons to capture Kirk and Spock on their own soil, volleying allegiance between the two sides until revealing their ethereal nature as weapons-hating peacenicks. While Kirk can smirk off the stalemate, Kor obviously plots to battle another day, seething with dissatisfaction. Even through these different points of view, this is a fun story about intergalactic strife -- a classic "Manifest Destiny" parable.

If this series reveals anything about the Klingons as a people, its their neverending need for conflict. If they aren't picking fights with the Federation or among themselves, they're seemingly in a constant state of struggle within themselves, from Kor's unresolved hubris to the councilman's attempt to balance honor with guile. By the end of this miniseries, I wonder if we the readers are meant to relate less with Kirk . . . and more to the Khan. (Who was himself not a Klingon, but whose origins as a bioengineered "superman" are attributed to the development of the Klingon brow -- the Klingons botched the experiments, with cranial consequences, as the Tiptons attempt to bridge this aesthetic gap between TOS and TNG.)

I should mention that Klingons is beautifully and meticulously illustrated and colored, perhaps even more so than The Space Between, which is indicative of IDW's serious handling of the Trek franchise. In fact, aside from their multiple variant covers (I steer away from the picture covers and scored the David Messina piece, though I would've preferred the Joe Corroney option had I seen it), a special edition is available completely in Klingon, with the script supplied in English to embellish (and interpret) the reading experience. It doesn't get any more Prime Directive than that. Imagine if Marvel had published the Kree/Skrull War in Kree and/or Skrull . . .

So, as usual, Star Trek dares to take us one step closer toward the future it prophesied for us, by challenging us to embrace a culture we heretofore dubbed the enemy. Come on, even when we like them, we're suspicious of them, wondering when some gnarly Klingon sister will dare to seduce us into fathering her offspring ruler of the Empire. By exploring the corners of the Star Trek universe, IDW asks us to explore a small piece of ourselves, and fortunately, as long as Trek has its multitude of mythologies and characters to explore, I see nothing final to this frontier.

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