Sunday, January 20, 2008

Star Trek: Voyager #1

Star Trek: Voyager #1, November 1996, Marvel Comics
writer: Laurie S. Sutton
artist: Jesus Redondo
letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
colorist: John Kalisz
editor: Bobbie Chase
EIC: Bob Harris

Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, January 19, 2008.

On Saturday, January 19, I had the privilege to go where few fans have gone before. Star Trek: The Tour began its multi-city voyage in Long Beach, California this weekend, and my girlfriend scored me a pair of tickets for Christmas. Now, I've been an admitted Trekkie since I saw the Next Generation episode "Remember Me," which was actually an excellent jumping on point, considering Dr. Crusher's frantic recollections of the series' core characters as they seemingly disappear from existence. I was instantly fascinated by Roddenberry's idealistic future, and just as intrigued by the complexities of his characters, which have coincidentally been the dual, timeless strengths accounting for Trek's forty-year success in the first place. As a fledgling geek, I was hooked.

Alas, I hadn't mustered much interest for the original series, let alone Deep Space Nine and Voyager, until some years later, when The Next Generation went the way of "All Good Things . . ." and my life had a vividly Trek-shaped hole to fill. The "OS" will always have a special place in my heart as the bold series that started it all, but, thanks to my newly acquired DirecTV DVR, Voyager is rapidly becoming my second favorite of the franchise. Its concept takes the "boldly going" thing to a whole new level, stranding its characters in the distant, never explored Delta Quadrant, which also epitomizes a sense of isolation most Trek fans must feel from time to time. Sure, fan clubs and conventions offer Trekkies an exclusive sense of community, but where else can you wear your homemade Starfleet uniform? Who else will understand a statement like, "Come on, don't go all Quark on me with these prices!" Touring Star Trek around the country is the equivalent to touring a band everyone's heard of but only a few people will actually go and see.

So, what better way to celebrate the day than to review Star Trek: Voyager #1, the perfect combination of my Trekkie tryst and "number one issue" series? I own and have read a few TNG comics, mostly published by DC, but otherwise I've generally avoided Trek comics in the past, specifically because of the trappings presented in this Voyager #1. In this inaugural issue, Voyager and her crew attempt to help a Talaxian ship trapped in a dense asteroid field, and when their tractor beam fails in the face of the field's ionic storm, they venture forward to attempt a transporter evacuation. In the end, the Talaxians disappear, much to the Voyager crew's horror, but most likely to the aliens' delight, since their leader's "You know what to do" directive reveals a more sinister plan. Of course, this issue takes the entire twenty-two page story to get there, with a brief holodeck picnic interlude to establish a bit of characterization.

Unfortunately, even the asteroid field's ionic storm isn't enough to spark the kind of interest Captain Janeway and her crew deserve. The holodeck respite is an interesting interlude, and Lt. Paris's casual attitude is present and accounted for (calling Janeway their "fearless leader" in Raphael-to-Leonardo fashion), but the other characters are practically interchangeable in personality, simply sharing their mutual motivation to pass the time before they get home. The rest of the issue is primarily engineering jargon via dramatic character blocking and pseudo-suspenseful starship action, which normally works on my television screen . . . but not on the comic book page. I almost feel sorry for artist Jesus Redondo, as he tries his best to make Harry Kim look compelling, punching buttons at his ops station. He should be commended for capturing the look of each actor so well, while instilling a unique personification of their respective characters, to boot, but I wish he had more to work with. Tuvok swinging a baseball bat is a far cry from hand-to-hand combat with the Borg.

Really, for its first issue, that's what Voyager should have given us: each character's individual strengths in the face of a mutual adversary, versus this bridge-to-engineering formula that often works best for those filler TV episodes between the more plot-advancing epics. Yes, while I really like the Voyager TV series, I'm wondering how many episodes actually proactively tackle their attempts to get home? The frequent distractions are expected and necessary, and the persistent Borg threat is thrilling and fan-pleasing, but Victorian romps on the holodeck? Body-leeching alien parasites? Fun, fluffy filler between the real stuff, I say! When a comic book series starts with such fluff, you can speculate on how soon it will get home, I reckon.

Also, just another note of criticism: this issue's opening act two-page splash featured the Talaxian ship, not the Voyager. Further, any sequences featuring external views of the ship are entertaining, but not as effective as the real thing -- in other words, we see this stuff in comics all the time, so the "wow factor" is best saved for the screen. With a first issue hinging around Voyager "mounting" the Talaxian ship with its landing gear, I can't imagine a future issue featuring narrative from the Delta Flyer's point of view being too far behind, you know? (Yes, Voyager looks like she's humping the Talaxian ship. I know it's lonely out there in the Delta Quadrant, but come on!)

Needless to say, after experiencing much of the Trek universe firsthand thanks to Star Trek: The Tour, this issue had handicap from the get-go. Still, if the tour proved anything, it's Trek's ability to conquer any medium -- even comics. IDW is finally getting it right, and I can't wait to dive into its latest TNG miniseries, the first issue of which hit the stands last week. You can rest assured the ensigns in that series won't be wearing capes, like in DC's first TNG miniseries back in '88. Also, though I haven't read it yet, I'm betting the true charm of the series will come from its excavation of the characters' quirks and personalities. Indeed, the likes of Picard, Riker, Data, and the rest seem to offer as much vast possibilities as even the most uncharted reaches of space. That's where any Star Trek comic needs to boldly go if the franchise's timelessness is to remain intact.

Addendum: Here are a few Voyager-related pics from Star Trek: The Tour. A more comprehensive review of the tour will be posted at my other blog soon enough!

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