Virtual Display Case: January 2009

Star Trek Classic Captain's Chair Replica

Now come on, who doesn't want their own captain's chair? Even people who don't like Star Trek want their own captain's chair, it's just common sense. If I had my own captain's chair, I would modify it so the buttons actually did stuff, like installing a universal remote into it, or a speaker phone. Also an intercom so I can hail the Missus in the kitchen to fetch me pretzels and sody pop. (Hell, as long as I'm indulging in ridiculous fantasies here, I might as well go all the way).

By the way, this chair retails for $2717.01, so I think they only need to sell 3 in order to meet Diamond's newly-announced minimum sales requirement and avoid being cancelled.

Battle Damaged Mjolnir

Od's Blood, I want this so bad, wisecracks fail me. I can't even joke. "Leather-wrapped handle"-- Please, everyone just turn away, lest you see my rugged manly eyes tearing up...

Flux Capacitor Replica
On the one hand, this is kind of neat memento of Back to the Future but on the other-- it basically just looks like a fuse box. I know that's sort of the point, it looks like something Doc Brown would whip up in his garage, but for $275 you could probably drop by Home Depot and buy your own fuse box. Now if it actually permitted time travel, then we'd have something...

Zatanna Cover Girls of the DC Universe Statue

Just keep repeating: "It's just a piece of porcelain...it's just a piece of porcelain...."

Conan the Conqueror Statue

I know I just featured a Conan statue a few months ago, but this one really jumps out at me. They did a great job of translating the original Frazetta painting, dontcha think? With that maniacal look on his, he looks like he's about to grab Zatanna by her hair, throw her across his horse and gallop off in triumph...

Black Cthulhu Statue

...but before Zatanna has a chance to claw Conan's eyes out, Black Cthulhu rises from the depths of the Netherworld, his dread shadow casting a pall of despair over the doomed land. Zatanna suddenly cries out, "Dratsab ylgu uoy, lleh ot og!" and Conan, freaked out, lets her down gently from his steed and beats a hasty retreat.

Wow, bad enough I'm dreaming about toys I can't afford, now I'm plotting out entire scenarios in my head using them. I am truly a sick man.


Dusty Abell Rocks the 70's

Ever since I saw this gorgeous nostalgia-trip artwork on the Major Spoilers website (who in turn saw it on myextralife.com who in turn got it from Dusty's website) I keep staring and staring at it. More details seem to emerge every time I look at it. By no means were all of the shows represented above top-shelf entertainment, but if you were a certain age in the 70's (that is, a little kid easily wowed and not yet stricken with terminal cynicism) these goofy shows were an absolute blast.

There's a super-gigundo version if you want to pour over every nifty retro detail. Just zip over to Dusty's site and click the thumbnail. Then go make it sandwich; it might take a minute to upload the page!

Bravo, Dusty Abell! You totally rule!!!


Terminator vs. Terminator

In the past few weeks, two different Terminator #1’s have hit the streets, not surprising as anticipation for the fourth film grows as we get closer to its May 22nd release. What’s strange about it, though, is that these comics are coming from two different companies, one from Dynamite and the other from IDW. It boggles my mind that competitors can both possess the rights to produce comics from a popular franchise at the same time, but since this unique situation has arisen, the only logical thing to do is to seal these 2 books up in a mylar bag and have them go at it, robo y robo, until one book emerges victorious.

It’s Terminator fight night!

Ladieeeees and Gentlemen, in this corner, weighing in at $3.50 for 22 pages of story, is Terminator: Revolution #1 by Simon Furman and Lui Antonio.

Annnnd in this corner, weighing in at $3.99 for 22 pages of story, is Terminator: Salvation #1 from Dara Naraghi and Alan

Okay let’s have a dirty filthy fight, no holds barred annnnnnd…
Fight! Fight! Fight!

Round One: The Introduction

Revolution: This may be a first issue, but we learn from the recap page that this mini continues on from at least one previous series. "Kate Bewster" has died a year previous and John Connor received help from a terminator called "Uncle Bob" in fleeing Crystal Peak, whatever that is. By the way, isn't Kate's name "Brewster"? Nice copyediting. Also, according to the IMDB, Kate is alive and well in film 4, which means these comics represent yet another alternate version of the Terminator storyline, separate from both the movies and the TV show (which already conflict with each other).

Salvation: Billed as an official movie preview, this comic flows directly from the events of Rise of the Machines. As long as you've seen the three movies, or even just the last one, you're golden.

Winner: Salvation.

Round Two: The Setting

Revolution: A bunker in New Jersey, plus the blasted environs of its perimeter. Also, in the past, a trailer in 1996 New Orleans.

Salvation: Opens with a globe-spanning montage as John Connor sends out a message of hope and resistance to the remains of humanity. Shots of the Capitol, Forbidden City and Taj Mahal (among others) in smoking ruins bring home how much civilization has lost under the reign of Skynet. The action of the story unfolds on two fronts, a resistance HQ in Detroit and a refugee camp in Arut, Niger. In just a few pages this book does a much better job in establishing just how far the nations of the world have fallen.

Winner: Salvation

Round Three: The Characters

Revolution: John Connor and his new wife Tara are the center of attention, which a short appearance by a young Kyle Reese. The rest of the freedom fighters are basically just cannon fodder. In the past, we're back with Sarah Connor (looking nothing like Linda Hamilton) and young whiny John.

Salvation: With John relegated to a voice on the radio and a brief flashback scene, the main characters here are from a range of ethnicities and cultures, united as one against the common aggressor, the machines. The resistance here come off as real people, not a bunch of rednecks in camoflage.

Winner: Salvation.

Round Four: The Action

Revolution: While waiting to kick his latest operation into gear, an attempt to wrest control of a missile command center from Skynet, John Connor sits around his bunker being anxious and fretting about when Terminators are going to try and come wipe out his new wife. And then one does, in the form of the highly advanced T-Infinity model. Meanwhile, in 1996-- well you know the score: Sarah and John are on the run, and Terminators are trying to kill them. Rather than just one, Skynet has sent 8 of them after the Connors this time.

Salvation: Similarly, a plan is afoot to thwart a Skynet uranium mine, but meantime Resistance leader Elena Maric tries to convince an underground survivalist community to stop hiding and take a stand against the enemy. Both Detroit and Arut come under assault by robotic forces.

Winner: It's a draw; both have a healthy dose of gunfire and explosions.

Round Five: The Artwork

Revolution: This is where this book really falls down: in Antonio's vision of the post-apocalypse, everyone is pretty and buff and runs around in tank tops to show off their physiques. Tara Connor is supposed to be a respected resistance leader, yet she runs around with her big boobs barely restrained by her skimpy top and thong straps showing out of her pants. Cause, you know, when you are fighting a losing battle to save humanity from extinction, you wouldn't want your panty lines to show through your cargo pants! Also the T-Infinity looks mighty super-heroey for the dystopian setting, he kinda resembles Mr. Freeze's long lost brother.

Salvation: Robinson's pencils are much more appropriate for the milieu in which the story is taking place. Far from being glamorous and beautiful, the characters have... well, character. They come in different shapes and sizes, look frazzled and dress more in keeping with desperate freedom fighters eking out an existence in a ruined world. The depiction of the shattered world monuments in the opening pages alone are more interesting than anything in Revolution.

Winner: Salvation.

And by the unanimous verdict of the judges, the winner and champion is:

IDW's Terminator: Salvation #1 for sure. Revolution is just a very by-the-numbers story with little to set it apart from other Terminator stories, drawn too bright and superheroish. Salvation does a much better job of reflecting the saga as a worldwide event, with dark atmospheric artwork and interesting characters to become invested in. Presumably Naraghi and Robinson were able to get a look at script and artwork from the upcoming film; this comic makes me look forward to its imminent release that much more.

Revolution rating: 6/10
Salvation Rating: 8/10


DnA Domination

Although they have been making quite a name for themselves of late, writing collaborators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning-- known collectively by their fans as “DnA”, are the exact opposite of an overnight sensation. In fact, these guys have been in the trenches for years, paying their dues both as a team and separately. Abnett is a prolific and versatile writer all on his own, with credits ranging from Warhammer 40K to Wallace and Gromit children’s books. Lanning is an accomplished inker on tons and tons of DC and Marvel books. But right now, as a team, they are hotter than ever, being primarily responsible for bringing back the cosmic in the Marvel Universe and making space heroes more prominent at the company than they’ve been in a decade.

Marvel has a lot of great cosmic storylines on their resume, but those kind of stories hit a sort of fallow period for awhile, with characters like the Silver Surfer and Warlock unable to sustain ongoing titles in the post-90’s post-bankruptcy period. Keith Giffen deserves a lot of the credit for rethinking the genre with 2006’s Annihilation event, but ever since he defected to DC, DnA have taken the ball and run with it. They spearheaded an Annihilation sequel called Conquest and are now gearing up to pit the Kree against the Shi’ar in War of Kings. In addition to their big hoo-hah event, Abnett and Lanning are currently responsible for both of the big monthly space opera books on the block, the newest incarnations of Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The first 12 issues of Nova have just been released in a handsome oversized hardcover, which makes for a satisfying afternoon of reading. This series marks Richard Rider’s fourth(!) attempt at carrying an ongoing title, but I feel that this time we may have a winner. One possibly fatal flaw of previous attempts was that although his powers and shiny space helmet originated from outer space, Nova spent most of his time earthside, angsting about his life and knocking out costumed super villains. He was basically a surly Peter Parker with a bucket on his head. DnA have sent him out amongst the stars, where he’s filling the all-encompassing “protector of the universe” role in the tradition of Captain Marvel and Quasar.

As his latest series opens, Rich is the last surviving member of the Nova Centurion Corps, the galactic peacekeeping force that was wiped out by the Annihilation Wave. I confess it was news to me that the Corps has become so widespread across the cosmos-- back in the day they were strictly local protectors of the planet (and later domed city of) Xandar. When exactly they expanded to become Marvel’s answer to the Green Lantern Corps I have no idea, but I guess it’s not important since they’re all dead now anyway. Richard Rider is more powerful than ever because he possesses the cumulative power of the entire Corps and also houses the vast computer knowledge of Xandar’s Worldmind in his noggin. He also feels a tremendous burden to single-handedly carry on the Nova Corps tradition, to be a protector to all worlds at all times, responding to constant back-to-back distress calls. Not surprisingly, Rich is beginning to burn out a bit.

As the book opens, Nova is finally convinced to take a breather and check in with his family back on Earth. Unfortunately, things have changed quite a bit in his absence, and not for the better: several of his New Warriors teammates have died in the Stamford incident, the team’s name has become synonymous with “child-killing monsters” and Iron Man, director of SHIELD comes looking to sign him up for the Initiative. The Thunderbolts want to smack him down, his buddy Speedball has become an emo S-and-M depressive, and his own father is skeeved out to have Richard back in the house. Needless to say, Nova heads back to the stars sooner rather than later.

For the rest of the first year, Nova tied into the Annihilation Conquest in a pretty surprising way. DnA throw us a filthy curveball when Rich is actually assimilated by the Phalanx and becomes the villain for a couple of issues. In desperation, the Worldmind rebels against Richard and instills the Nova power in a female Kree warrior named Ko-Rel. Now, if this has happened in issue #1, readers might’ve thought this new Nova could be the new starring character, but since we just spent 3 issues establishing Rider, this seems extremely unlikely. It’s a testament to DnA’s writing skills that although we’re pretty sure Ko-Rel’s tenure will be short-lived we still become invested in her plight and are affected by how her story ultimately plays out.

Nova spends the rest of this book fighting off a techno-organic viral infection and dodging assimilated assassins Gamora and Drax the Destroyer, while seeking a way to defeat the Phalanx. He briefly takes refuge at Knowhere, a self-contained city-state floating at the end of time and space inside the head of a decapitated Celestial. Many species from all realities call Knowhere home as they observe the end of the universe (shades of Douglas Adams, but played straight), as well as a resident team of alien superheroes, and a security chief named Cosmo who happens to be a sentient Russian telepath canine, complete with cosmonaut suit! Rider ultimately tracks down Kvch, the long-lost Technarch homeworld, where the fate of the universe may end up in the hands of the most unlikely combatant of all-- former New Mutant goofball Warlock.

Rather than having a regular penciller, the book passed from Sean Chen to Wellington Alves to Mahmud A. Asrar to Paul Pelletier. Despite the inconsistency, the comic looks pretty good throughout, though nobody blew me out of my chair. Everyone seems capable of keeping up with DnA's demands for bizarre creatures and exotic locations. The most distracting thing about the art is some of the iffy costumes: all the pointy edges on Nova look ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous, while Gamora basically runs around wearing a couple of strategically-placed ribbons, which makes it hard to take her seriously sometimes.

If team books are more your thing, DnA have you covered with Guardians of the Galaxy, the first six issues of which have been released in a "premiere" hardcover, which means it's smaller and contains fewer issues than the Nova book. This is a present-day incarnation of the Guardians, although elements of the more-familiar 31st-century team begin cropping up almost immediately. Clearly the writers plan to tie the two teams together in a lineage at some point.

In the wake of the Annihilation wave, the very fabric of time and space has been weakened, causing impromptu fissures in the structure of the universe. Peter Quill, formerly known as Star-Lord, is convinced that what's needed is a crack team of proactive cosmic troubleshooters to stop these crises as they crop up and convinces several of his allies to band together to battle all manner of unspeakable Lovecraftian abominations. Utilizing Knowhere's "Continuum Cortex", they are able to teleport through timespace to different crisis points in an effort to stem the tide. Right off the bat they also manage to piss off the Universal Church of Truth and get embroiled in a Skrull infiltration on board the station.

What makes the book work so well is the great mix of interesting characters, almost too many to keep track of, but I love it. Quill himself is an earnest soldier who feels guilty for letting the Phalanx conquer the Kree on his watch. Recruited for the team are three former Infinity Watch members (Adam Warlock, Gamora and Drax the Destroyer), all of whom are dealing with new identities, incarnations, and/or powers. A former Captain Marvel and the current Quasar, Phyla-Vell struggles with iffy self-confidence and the death of her lover as she tries to live up to the legacy of her quantum bands. The wise but eccentric Mantis backs up the team, and she has added telepathy and precognition to her power set (she has also, thankfully, stopped referring to herself as "this one" all the time). Probably the coolest character on the team is Rocket Raccoon, a wisecracking anthromorph with a giant gun that's bigger than he is. His best bud is Groot, who was formerly a 50-foot tall tree monster that stomped around proclaiming "I am Groot" over and over. After burning down during Conquest, Groot has since begun regrowing himself a la Swamp Thing, and is currently a 5-inch tall tree creature standing on Rocky's shoulder and proclaiming "I am Groot."

And by the way, I did mention that Knowhere's security chief is a cosmonaut telepathic dog in a spacesuit named Cosmo, right? I mean, that alone should convince you to run out and buy this!

The artist on GotG is the highly underrated Paul Pelletier, whose work I've enjoyed all the way back to the 90's version of DC's The Outsiders. His pencils are beautiful and his design work is imaginative; his action is well-choreographed. I see no reason this guy couldn't be as big as Alan Davis or Bryan Hitch, if fans would only take notice. Hope he's on this book for the long haul.

If I had any real reservation about Abnett and Lanning's space sagas, it's that they are just so relentlessly action-packed and event-driven there's not enough time to really slow down and give the characters a moment to breathe. To some that may be a strange complaint to have about a superhero comic, that there's too much action, but honestly there are so many great characters in these books I'd love to see them get a moment to shine in the spotlight. How about Rocket going back for some shore leave on his home planet? How about exploring the convoluted backstory of Quill and his father? When's the last time Phyla was on Titan? Hopefully these comics sell well enough to carry on for some time, because DnA have set up some great scenarios full of story potential and there's enough material for many entertaining tales to come.

Nova Rating: 8/10
Guardians of the Galaxy Rating: 9/10


Darth Mojo Rocks the Galaxy!!!

Darth Mojo is a way-cool visual effects supervisor who is just finishing up his gig on Battlestar Galactica, and previously did digital work for Babylon 5 and Voyager. But that's not the subject of today's post. In his spare time Mojo has managed to throw together the coolest "mixtape" of SF techno genius I've heard in many a day.

Don't question, just go to this page, download the mp3, throw it on your iPod and commence booty shaking. It's way awesome!

If you tool around Mojo's blog you'll also find some fun sci-fi conversation, as well as some great artwork that he's kind enough to share. The full-sized version of the Enterprise-D art above became my new desktop background within 20 seconds of my laying eyes on it. Sweet!


Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #1

Boy, I've been looking forward to Shrapnel since Radical Comics released that cool, intriguing trailer a few months back. Okay, it looked a bit like a video game, but heavy metal mecha warfare, who can't get into that? In the intervening time, Radical has been promoting the heck out of it, sitting down for interviews with any site that'll have 'em. Hand it to these guys, they know how to market. Then you see the issue in question, a nice hefty size at 48 glossy pages for a stunning $1.99 cover price. How can you go wrong?

Well the short answer is: by having an uninspiring story and lousy art.

The issue opens with a military action that is depicted with such dark and murky art that it's hard to tell what the hell is going on. I certainly can't make out who is fighting whom, or who's winning. It's just flashes of armored soldiers, mechas and big guns and a lot of swirling flame. After 10 pages of this chaos, we find out that it isn't even a real battle we've been watching, but a virtual reality training exercise! Ultimately, we will realize that the marines training here aren't even the main characters of the story. In fact, they are invading world after world and crushing local resistance; in essence these are the bad guys. Why we want to watch generic hostile grunts practice fighting is beyond me.

Let me say up front, Bagus Homoto's paintwork is not to my taste at all. Pretty much the entire book is as dark and impenetrable as the opening. Even for scenes taking place in broad daylight, everyone is clouded in shadows and murk. Considering that faces don't look so swift even when we get a good look, maybe that's on purpose. Sometimes you have to take a hint from where the word balloons are pointing to figure out who's even speaking. It's a shame, the art has been so strong on previous Radical books that this is a huge letdown for me.

A quarter of the way into the book we are finally introduced to the protagonists, a trio of Venusian miners called Sam, Stap and Jammer. It's a somewhat trite scene in which the volatile Stap gets into a barroom brawl with a group of artificially-enhanced "Genotypes," as they argue back and forth whether naturally-born "helots" like Stap deserve equal treatment. It's exposition by insult, with lines like: "I'll break it down pre-school so you can understand-- we're smarter than you and that's why we run the system" or "Helots are just as good a human as any splicer. So I can't figure out pi to the last digit in my head, or run as fast as you, but at least I have some fricking manners!" Not sure I buy that anyone ever talks like that, but as least writer M. Zachary Sherman was able to set up the Genotype/Helot dichotomy for us.

By the end of the issue, I'm not sure how this class warfare even fits in. The main plot concerns the approaching invasion force of the Alliance, who have demanded the surrender of the local government of Venus. World by world, the Alliance has been assimilating the free colonies through brute force, and now have given the President of Venus 24 hours to surrender. Although the planet has no standing army, local genotypes and helots have just as much to lose if they don't volunteer to join the local militia to take a stand against the overwhelming numbers of space marines. Stap and Jammer answer the call, but Sam tries to talk some sense into them, failing to persuade them that they are going to die for a lost cause.

Sam is the female character depicted on the various covers for this series (don't ask me who or what "Aristeia" is; unless I missed a reference, the word isn't even mentioned), and really the only character who is given much depth in issue one. She's quiet, reflective and no-nonsense, and obviously there are some important events in her past which define who she is now. There's certainly some reason why she spends her off hours arguing with a psychological AI program versed in post-traumatic stress disorder, which she has elected to manifest as a hologram of her deceased little sister. When Stap accidentally begins floating off into space during a mining mishap, she reacts with much more command and unconscious training than a simple miner would be expected to have. The issue ends with her planning to flee in the face of the coming storm, but considering that she's wielding weaponry on the battlefield on most of the covers, one would assume that a change of heart is coming up.

Mark Long and Nick Sagan are credited as the co-creators of this book, but I'm not sure what that really means since neither of them wrote or drew it. Sherman uses some weird pacing and clunky dialogue, requiring characters to regurgitate information that the listener would already know, in order to explain the scenario to the reader. The characters other than Sam are pretty thin, and don't ask me why we spend so much time with the Alliance marines, unless the intention is to make some of them sympathetic in future issues, and not the steel-booted thugs everyone believes them to be. The art is just a mess, way too impressionistic and unappealing through most of the book. Honestly, any one of the many cover artists working on this series would be a better choice for the interiors. Radical, I still love you guys, but I think I'm gonna give this series a pass.

Rating: 6.5/10


Ythaq: The Forsaken World #1

Even if you aren't a huge Marvel fan, you have to tip your hat for what they've managed to accomplish. In a decade's time they've gone from bankruptcy to being the dominant force in the comics industry. Personally, I haven't been too pleased with the majority of their superhero titles the last couple of years-- I find many of them too dark, too event-driven, characterization-poor, continuity ignorant and both inappropriate for and impenetrable to potential younger readers. But they do sell like crazy, and it's hard to argue with success. Also, it's dangerous to generalize-- they do cater to old-timers like me with stuff like Agents of Atlas, retro Spider-Man minis, and various Joe Casey continuity-implants. Marvel has also done a fine job of branching out and trying to appeal to a wider range of potential readers. They adapt other media with projects like Dark Tower, Magician, Anita Blake, and even classics such as the Odyssey or Treasure Island. For SF and space opera lovers like you and me there's the terrific line of Annihilation books and, more importantly for the purposes of this review, their well-advised partnership with the European publisher Soleil.

Whoever's job it is to select which Soleil properties to bring over to the U.S., I say "bravo" to you and keep up the good work. In my first post on this blog I extolled the virtues of Universal War One (now available in a collected hardback, btw). I didn't collect Sky Doll or Samurai, but saw how gorgeous they look, and I think their latest release, Christophe Arleston and Adrien Floch’s Ythaq: the Forsaken World, may be their most beautiful book yet.

Lieutenant Granite Welgoat is an astronavigator aboard the Comet's Tail, a luxury starliner ferrying wealthy clientele between exotic worlds. As punishment for repeated tardiness in reporting for duty, Granite has been assigned the lowly task of serving drinks to the passengers. Which is why she is behind the bar in the Marina Lounge when a strange spatial anomaly literally tears the ship apart. Luckily, individual sections of the ship are designed to seal up and become self-sustaining escape pods in case of emergency. Trapped inside with a tousled-haired happy-go-lucky maintenance tech named Narvarth and a gorgeous but snooty young socialite named Callista, Granite rides the escape vessel as it breaks away from the doomed cruiser and plunges down to the surface of an uncharted world in the middle of nowhere.

The first issue doesn't really explain why or by whom the planet Ythaq is "forsaken", but it certainly is a strange and perilous place for three strangers to make their way through. After a rough ocean landing, their entire escape craft is swallowed whole by a giant sea monster. No sooner do they get out of this fix then they are put on trial by fuzzy tusked primitives with speech impediments for wrecking half their village. The trio land in one predicament after another as they cross the foreign landscape in search of fellow survivors, as well as chunks of the downed ship that may contain a transponder that can be used to signal for help.

As if navigating across a strange world and dealing with its bizarre lifeforms wasn't enough of a challenge, our heroes remain barely a step ahead of deadly saurian-steeded warriors breathing down their neck. These mercs are in the service of the local ruler, a sadistic femme fatale bedecked in jeweled silks and cowl called Margrave Ophyde. It not entirely clear why she's so hot to capture as many survivors as possible, but considering she whips and even eviscerates even her own lackeys who displease her, it can't be anything good.

Allow me to commence gushing profusely: Adrien Floch's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Based on his landscapes, cityscapes, costume design and creature creations, he would be a boon to any movie production; everything is rendered in painstaking detail and every page crackles with imagination. The aliens are fascinating and the girls are sexy (I suppose Narvarth is sexy too, if you're into that sort of thing). One major regret is the artwork has been shrunk down from its original album size to fit a standard American comic page. On the upside, each page has four tiers of story rather than the usual three, meaning more story in a book already a generous 61(!) pages in length. You'll be wanting to reach for a magnifying glass to take in every aspect of Floch's exacting work.

Do yourself a solid and find a copy of Ythaq: the Forsaken World #1-- if your LCS doesn't have any, ask 'em to order you one, or hie thee to the internets. I do worry about the long-term success of the Marvel/Soleil venture; it's so far outside the safe spandex-clad comfort zone of most U.S. comic readers. In my pessimistic way, I do expect it to be a noble failure. But hope springs eternal, and as long as fantastic books of this level of quality continue to be released, I'll be first in line to snap 'em up!

Rating: 9.5/10


Research Materials for the Advanced Trekologist

I literally have a tilting stack of comics and graphic novels to review, which means it's time to take my leave of the Star Trek universe for a bit (at least until I finish up Best Destiny). Before I go, however, I have a few suggestions for those interested in learning more about Star Trek beyond the films and series. If you are interested in the vast array of novels and comics, here are a couple essentials that you want to have in your collection.

In Voyages of Imagination, Jeff Ayers takes on the unenviable task of compiling a comprehensive directory of 40 years worth of officially licensed Star Trek fiction, from the inception of the series through early 2007. Ayers provides publishing notes, plot teasers and background interviews with authors and editors for hundreds of novels, dozens of anthologies and even the many Trek ebooks available online. Closing things out is the piece de resistance for a supernerd like me: a comprehensive chronology of Trek fiction listed along the franchise's future timeline, copiously annotated with footnotes pointing out the discrepancies. Glorious!

For a very long time, Pocket Books churned out some rather bland and by-the-numbers Star Trek books. Reading through some of the behind-the-scenes goings-on discussed here, it's really not all that surprising that some of this stuff turned out less than fantastic.

For one thing, it seems that these books have an extremely fast turnaround between commission and deadline, to the point where I'm not even sure how the writers could even produce more than one draft. Also, many early books in certain series were written before those shows even began to air, leaving the authors to page through the series' bibles and basically guess what the characters and settings would turn out to be like. No wonder blatant errors aren't caught during the editing stage, like Data using contractions throughout a novel, or people beaming back and forth between DS9 and Bajor as if they are in transport range of each other.

It also seems like Gene Roddenberry and his lapdog Richard Arnold did their damnedest to suck as much character and life out of these books as possible. Writers faced a Catch-22 in that they couldn't develop their own characters and yet they couldn't have anything significant happen to the main cast they were obliged to use. Since every Starfleet officer is a paragon of virtue and all human foibles have been overcome, the heroes can never be wrong or have personality conflicts. Lotsa luck creating interesting drama under those conditions!

For a long time, there was also no cohesion to the line, no recurring characters were allowed, or plot threads from book to book. One of the best things about the Star Wars expanded universe is that every book fits into a single continuum where storylines and characters evolve and recur under different writers. Meanwhile, all Star Trek novels had to be self-contained, one might even say designed to be insignificant. Not only were authors discouraged from referring to previous books that came before, they weren't even supposed refer to characters or plots from their own previous Star Trek books they'd written themselves!

The end result was standalone books that had to jump through hoops and stand or fall on their own merits. And while I'm not saying that there were no good Star Trek novels on the shelves, there were an awful lot of mediocre ones, and the ratio was not good. After being let down too many times, I decided trying to find diamonds in the rough was too time-consuming when there was so much other great stuff to read, and I turned my back on the Trek tie-ins altogether.

But I gather times have changed at Pocket Books since I stopping paying attention. Now, they aren't only publishing story arcs, but have been given free reign to extrapolate major events beyond the end of various series. The Enterprise books have retconned the horrible series finale "These Are the Voyages..." out of existence and are now setting up the epic Romulan Wars. The post-Voyager books are covering the various crewmembers' adjusting to being back in Federation space and there is an entire Titan series exploring Riker's post-Nemesis adventures as captain (finally!) of his own starship. By the time I had finished pouring through Voyages of Imagination, I was interested in checking out Trek fiction the way I haven't been in a very long time.

I also learned all sorts of interesting tidbits about past Trek novels as well. Did you know, for instance, that Killing Time as originally published contained such a blatant homoerotic undercurrent between Kirk and Spock that an outraged Roddenberry ordered the book recalled, pulped, and rewritten. (Wonder if there are still originals out there, and what they go for?) Or that "the Lost Years" series was planned to be much more ambitious but got cut off at the knees? That Lawrence Watt-Evans created the pseudonym "Nathan Archer" because he didn't want the sales of tie-in books to affect how his fantasy books were preordered by bookstores?That Probe was almost completely rewritten, although it still is credited to original (and thoroughly dissed) author Margaret Wander Bonanno? Ayers declines to go into this last controversy in any detail, but merely mentioning its existence brings one to some interesting reading on the Internet, not to mention Bonanno's original draft, Music of the Spheres.

I'm sure it was no easy task trying to figure out a way to organize listings of hundreds of books, but Voyages of Imagination isn't laid out in a particularly intuitive way. Bantam books merit their own chapter, but then Pocket's TOS books are separated between a chapter for the numbered books and another for the unnumbered ones. Crossover series are yet another chapter. Novels aren't even grouped all together, as the ebook section is plopped down right in the middle. The odds of finding a given book by flipping around are extremely slim, however there is a nice author and title index in the back. Each entry has a reproduction of cover art, but in some cases I was puzzled to see more recent art, presumably from a later printing. If I'd had my druthers the original cover art would've been used in all cases.

I personally would've been up for a more critical take on these books as well. Ayers' approach is to cover each book as if they are all of equal merit, when in reality they so aren't. I think I read in an interview somewhere (which I can't find now, dammit) that he'd originally intended to give all the books a star rating, but eventually decided against it. This guide is published by Pocket Books, who likely wouldn't've been pleased to release a book slagging some of their other products. Also, it would be a creep move to solicit authors for their reminiscences and then turn around and give their book a low rating. So while I would still someday love to see a single book that turned a critical eye on the Trek fiction, I get why this isn't that book.

The interviews range from detailed and informative to cursory comments (sounds like William Shatner blocked out 10 minutes of time to discuss his entire series), but disappointingly some books get no backstory at all, either because Ayers couldn't track down the author or he succeeded and they declined to talk to him. Meanwhile, I feel that Ayers spent an inordinate amount of space covering every single short story in every Trek anthology, particularly since, let's face it, the Brave New Worlds books are basically fanfic contest winners. Something's a little off when the 371-page Enterprise: The First Adventure only merits a quarter-page of coverage, while, say, the short story "If I Lose Thee..." is covered for two full pages.

Still, it's not entirely fair to judge a book on what I would've done, rather than what's there. And there is a ton of useful and interesting information to be found within, making Voyages of Imagination well worth the $21 cover price. Even better (well, maybe not from the author's point of view), it can be found at a marked-down remainder price, making it a ridiculously great value and that much easier for me to recommend this book.

If you're more interested in the comic book side of Trek fiction, find yourself a copy of Star Trek: the Complete Comic Book Collection. Graphic Imagining Technology (yes, their acronym is GIT. Stop snickering) has done a splendid job in bringing legal digitized comics to fans at an affordable price. For under 50 bucks, this DVD-Rom brings you hundreds of Trek comics, from all interations, on a single shiny disk.

I have hardly scratched the surface as far as reading this wealth of material, but I have taken the disc for a spin to see what's what. Upon inserting, a menu page opens up in Adobe Acrobat, offering not only a comics option, but also an introductory essay under "history" and short character intros under "Bios". These are both pretty lame and presumably anyone who is into Star Trek enough to buy this already knows everything written here. Under bonus materials you can find five comics produced by Power Records, which came with 45 records dramatizing the story. Alas, the sound file is not included, but still these comics are an interesting curiosity.

Amongst the other comics you will find here:

61 Gold Key comics, as well as supplemental material, produced between 1967 and 1979. I have only read the first few so far, but they barely seem like Star Trek to me; the costumes and the Enterprise are drawn correctly (well except for the afterburner flames shooting out of the warp nacelles), but otherwise they seem like pretty generic SF stories with little knowledge of the Trek universe. I checked issue 61 and it does seem to have a better grasp on the characters, so they must have improved somewhere along the way. Overall, though, I'm not sure how highly these stories are regarded by Trek fandom.

In the DC section, you get about 150 TOS comics that take place in the timeframe of movies III-VI, as well as the first TNG series. Because Malibu had the DS9 license, they had to crossover with another company to bring the two casts together. The gorgeous Debt of Honor graphic novel by Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes is here. An interesting curiosity to be found in this section is Who's Who in Star Trek, which offers character pages of info on TOS cast and villains, a la DC's own Who's Who handbooks for their superhero universe.

Malibu seems not to have had license to do anything other than DS9, but they explored that corner of Trek universe pretty thoroughly, not only with a DS9 monthly but various limited series, even one for the Maquis. There's also a Terek Nor special; I wonder how it jibes with Pocket's recently released Terek Nor prequel trilogy.

The Marvel section has not only the short-lived Post-TMP series from the late 70's but a ton of books that the company published in the 90's after they bought out Malibu. This not only included the main TV series, but comics devoted to Captain Pike and a Starfleet Academy book starring Nog!

The license then bounced back to DC again; specifically to their Wildstorm branch. However, they didn't seem to be overly interested in really mining the franchise, as they only released 30 comics while they had it.

Here's what you won't find on the disc:

Any IDW comics. The newest comics on this disc are from Oct. 2002; IDW gained the license after that.

Any Trek/X-Men crossovers, presumably because Marvel's permission to use the X-Men couldn't be secured.

Any Star Trek newspaper comic strips-- despite the fact that the original solicitations for this DVD advertised their inclusion. Either they are so well-hidden that I can't find them, or someone had a change of heart and decided against adding them-- maybe they ran out of space! But I do feel burned a bit by this case of false advertising.

I doubt that anything will replace the pleasure of grabbing a honest-to-god yellowing-newsprint comic book and taking it with me to whatever cozy corner I like to read. Reading comics on a computer screen is just not fun. But from a research perspective, the convenience of the Complete Comics Collection is just amazing. This amount of material would take hundreds of dollars to collect, and fill up a long box or more to boot. To have it all on one disk is, from a legitimate source rather than illegal download, a terrific convenience and a good value, to boot. Perhaps GIT can ring up Lucas about a Star Wars DVD-rom next?


Switchblade Honey

Are you getting tired of all this Star Trek talk yet? Are you not a fan? Do you find Star Trek dull, pompous and ridiculously self-important? Are you happy that Enterprise got canned and there's no new Trek show clogging up the airwaves? Mate, has Warren Ellis got a comic for you!

According to this book's introduction, Ellis was subjected to entirely too much Trek while his girlfriend was convalescing after childbirth and came up with the idea for this graphic novel as a result. It occurred to him that, more than anyone in the world, he would want to see British character actor Ray Winstone as the captain of a Federation starship. As he ruminated on the idea "all my loathing of that profoundly ordinary, polite, self-important and bland future presented by TV science fiction came surging up. All yellow, and with bits in."

In this "mental puke", Ellis stacks the deck a bit by presenting us with a sort of evil twin to the Federation. Rather than using a thinly-disguised noble and well-meaning UFP to fulfill the role of straight-man, he stacks the deck by making the Earth alliance a bunch of right bastards. Far from following a Prime Directive, humanity in this future lands wherever they want to, and rape the land and the locals however they see fit. This comes back to bite them on the ass when they make a mess of the Chasta's homeworld. What no one realized was that the Chasta only choose to present themselves as simple and primitive for aesthetic reasons; they are actually packed with implanted technology, telepathically connected via hive mind, and consider the invading humans to be "ebola with shoes."

The war with the Chasta has gone so poorly that Earth is a month away from being occupied by the enemy. The situation is so desperate that one maverick general decides to spring some incarcerated officers and turn them loose on the Chasta. Of course, since the military are a bunch of assholes, it turns out that most of the characters are in prison for bogus reasons. The anti-hero of the tale, John Ryder, is being detained for disobeying orders to destroy a friendly vessel in order to wipe out the Chasta attackers in its wake. His new gunner is in prison for refusing to fire on civilians, and his electronics expert is being punished for figuring out a way to kill Chasta by blowing out all the airlocks on their ship-- thus depriving the gunner, a rear admiral's son, a chance at a medal. John's new first officer, Susan Nile, castrated her captain when she caught him raping a junior officer. So these people are all "criminals", but ones that you actively root for.

Many stories have a macguffin to get the action going; in the case of Switchblade Honey just about everything in the book: the setting, the mission, the plot, are all one big macguffin in service of getting these colorful characters together, bouncing off each other and doing their thing. And basically their thing is smoking, drinking and swearing. Ellis calls this book anti-Star Trek, "an extended gag at the colourless, clean SF of the big media." Simply put, it's an excuse to get Winstone on the bridge of a Federation starship, bouncing a cigarette butt off the back of his straight-arrow pilot's head and calling him a "twat". Notice how the titular spaceship has a cheshire grin on the cover of the book?

This story might be pretty lightweight, but they sure didn't skimp on the artwork. Brandon McKinney is a polished penciller who takes the project seriously, regardless of the actual content. I see hints of Dave Gibbons and Alan Davis here, but McKinney most closely resembles Mark Bagley. If you ask me, that's pretty good company to be in. It's a testament to Warren Ellis as a force in this industry that no matter which publisher he's writing for or how much of a lark the project is, he always attracts first-rate artists to work with.

I'm not entirely clear on the publishing history of Switchblade Honey; I guess it was originally published in 2003, although it was recently resolicited in Previews, which is when I ordered it. Perhaps this is a new printing. At any rate, this book gets most of its mileage out of enjoyment of the kind of rough, sarcastic, borderline misanthropic characters Ellis (not to mention Garth Ennis and Mark Millar) likes to use. At this point, though, this archetype has sort of lost its attraction for me due to extreme overuse, meaning this book may primarily be of interest to diehard Ellis fans and fervent Star Trek haters.

Rating: 7/10


Final Frontier

Wait! Don't run away screaming, I'm not about to discuss the horrendous fifth Star Trek film-- maybe another day. Before the Shat appropriated the title, Final Frontier was a perfectly entertaining Pocket Books "Giant Novel" released in 1988. It concerns the first adventure of the very first Constitution-class starship, so new that it hasn't yet even been christened Enterprise.

James T. Kirk only appears in the novel's framing sequence; the main character of the story is Jim's father, George Samuel Kirk. While young Jim is still a boy of 10 on his Iowa farm, George is light years away, serving as the security chief on Starbase Two. He and his friend Drake Reed are shanghaied by mysterious strangers and he is pressed into service as the first officer aboard the Federation's crown jewel: a new starship larger and more powerful than any ever before designed. Considering the ship's captain is a benevolent cardigan-wearing Brit named Robert April, it seems Kirk could have been asked politely, but possibly Diane Carey was desperate to hook readers with some action right away.

The kidnapping makes little sense, but the book improves considerably after that. A group of Federation colonists are stranded on the wrong side of a deadly ion storm with only days to live, and the newly-minted starship is the only vessel that has powerful enough shields to make it through in time to save them. So desperate is the situation that the untested vessel is launched unfinished with just a skeleton crew of just 57 souls.

The fates not only of the Enterprise and the colonists, but of the Federation itself are threatened by a single act of sabotage which strands the would-be rescuers deep in Romulan space-- practically on the doorstep of Romulus-- with most of their systems offline. Through no fault of their own, April and Kirk have broken the peace treaty and brought two enemies to the brink of a second galactic war. The Romulans can tell that the invading ship is immensely powerful and assumes the Federation is preparing to roll right over them. The only thing that prevents them from blowing the (as-yet unnamed) Enterprise out of the sky is the possibility that they can seize her and unlock the secrets of her advanced technology.

Central to this story is the clash of wills between the pacifistic captain and his more aggressive-minded first officer. They represent the dual nature of Starfleet vessels: primarily built for exploration and making peaceful contact with the greater galactic community, but also packing the firepower to defend against species that don't want to play nice. The idealistic April is so concerned about the principles of the Federation that he seriously considers surrender, while the more pragmatic Kirk argues that force is necessary to prevent the greater danger of the Enterprise's secrets falling into Romulan hands. This personality conflict leads April towards the end of the book to theorize that "it'll take someone wiser than the two of us to command this starship. An amalgam of us, probably, if such a person can be found," an obvious foreshadowing to Jim Kirk's future captaincy.

Beyond the two main characters, the rest of the Starfleet crew rather pale in comparison to their more entertaining Romulan counterparts. While it's interesting to know who the original Enterprise crew was, many (including Kirk's friend Drake) are basically namechecked and given little opportunity to shine beyond that. The only other crewmembers to have much impact are the cantankerous chief engineer Dr. Brownell, who provides comic relief with his cranky biting remarks and the extremely high-strung medical officer Sarah Poole, whom we know from the animated series episode "The Counter-clock Incident" is fated to become April's wife. Meanwhile, over on the Romulan vessel Raze, all sorts of cloak and dagger intrigue and chain of command struggles are afoot. The even-handed T'Cael, a reflective non-militaristic captain, has been basically exiled to a dishonorable interior patrol for being out of favor with the Praetor of the Empire. On board to keep tabs on him is Ry'iak, who initially seems like a cowardly and ineffective toady of the Praetor, but once the crisis begins it soon becomes apparent just how dangerous he can be to have around.

One needn't be a hardcore Trekkie to enjoy Final Frontier, just a fan of exciting, unpredictable space opera action adventure. There's planetary bombardment, attacks from indigenous carnivores, perilous rescues, and exciting chases through unfinished sections of the Enterprise. There is an act of murder so disturbing in its cruelty it borders on belonging in a horror story. And the starship battles... personally I love starship battles on screen-- they're usually my favorite parts of the films or shows they appear in-- but ship battles in prose are often dull to me. I've actually been known to skim the dogfight scenes in X-Wing books, ostensibly the most appealing part to other readers. Maybe it's her nautical experience, but Carey manages to string together several exciting set pieces in the inevitable battle. Also, there is a clever final stratagem at the close that will show why the Romulans decided to prioritize the development of cloaking technology.

There are are a few missteps, too. One pretty significant villain from the first half is significantly downplayed in the second half to the point where he/she is practically a non-factor. Also, the April/Poole romance is a misfire because the doctor is such a irrational, shrieking headcase you feel sorry for the poor captain to be saddled with her. The most unfortunate disappointment of the book, though, is through no fault of Carey's, and that's that subsequent Trek series and films, especially Enterprise, have rendered a lot of the "historical" aspects of this book moot. The dates are way off, for one thing, and it turns out that the NCC-1701 Enterprise was far from the first starship of significance. Also by the time of TOS, transporters were old hat, and the Romulans already had cloaking technology.

Regardless of these discrepancies, Final Frontier is a very fun book worth a read. In fact, I would go far as to say that Pocket Books should hire Diane Carey to revisit the book and rewrite it so that its finer details are more in line with current Star Trek canon. This is too successful a book to stay out-of-print due to petty details like whether the dates add up. This book didn't deal all that much with Jim Kirk's early years, but the sequel Best Destiny apparently does. The screenwriters of the upcoming JJ Abrams film cite Best Destiny as a book they looked at while developing their version of Kirk; after reading Final Frontier I'm very much looking forward to tackling the sequel next.

Rating: 8/10