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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Star Trek Graphic Novel Series - A review of The City On The Edge Of Forever.

For the very first time ever, half a century of Star Trek comics have been collected together in a single delicious series. This is thanks in no small part to the lovely people at EaglemossI don't know about you, but a collection that spans 50 years and includes many of the seminal moments in Star Trek lore is mouth-watering to say the very least. Do we really want or need the chance to revisit all the classic characters and incredible art from the STAR TREK comic archives? The chance to experience every edition with a specially-commissioned introduction to provide context to the story? The chance to see a number of collected comics and a bonus reprint of one of the comic archive’s classic stories?

Oh, you betcha!

The world of science fiction, fantasy and horror is littered with countless 'what ifs?'; What if Guillermo Del Toro had actually stayed on board to make The Hobbit? Would it still have been an over-inflated self-indulgent CGI fest that lost the soul of the original text? What if the original writers of Judge Dredd had actually been consulted before the disaster that was the first cinematic incarnation featuring Sylvester Stallone (Stallone!!??) as the Mega City Fascist? What if the Alien series hadn't disappeared up its own xenomorphic posterior in haze of pseudo philosophic nonsense? (Yes, Prometheus, I'm talking about you.)

There are more examples, many more and if truth be told which could fill any number of future 5D articles. It may seem a little strange to suggest that a Star Trek episode, one that is rightly regarded as a bone fide all-time classic story and frequent headliner of Trek 'best of' lists, should be part of the 'What if....?' list. However, I would argue that The City on the edge of Forever for a number of reasons does deserve to be part of the list.

The City on the edge of Forever featured towards the end of the first TV series in 1967 and became an instant success with fans and quite rightly gained a level of adoration that endures to this day. The episode sees Dr. McCoy accidentally inject himself with an hallucagenic stimulant which results in him escaping to a nearby planet and travelling through a time portal. This immediately causes havoc with the time line in which the our brave crew's ship, and more importantly the Federation, no longer exists. It's safe to say that things are pretty bad. In order to try and save the day Kirk and Spock follow McCoy back to 1930's America to do that thing they do and repair the time line.

The story was based upon the work of the much revered Sci-fi author Harlan Ellison but it was to experience a number of significant re-writes at the hands of other writers before it was deemed to fit into the acceptable Star Trek world. If the very public (and occasional legal) arguments are anything to go by, I think it's safe to assume that Mr Ellison didn't take the changes to his work very well. So much so that he never wrote for the series again.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a fully paid up member of the Star Trek obsessive club, the whole thing has been part of my life ever since I can remember and I confidently expect that despite the odd series blunder (Yes I'm looking at you Enterprise) my love will continue to endure for the rest of my days. However, I must admit that I have never quite fully felt comfortable with the cosy concept of future humanity envisioned by Gene Roddenberry in which we had lost the vast majority of our selfish, materialistic and warring nature. It all seemed a little naive and dare I say it, boring which meant that all too often there was a danger of some episodes foundering in a sea of nobleness in which harder edged story lines had little chance of flourishing. I'm sure that many will disagree with me...... I await the messages with, ahem, interest.

As a consequence, there are many like me who have often wondered what the result would have been if treatments like Ellison's far darker and complex teleplay for The City on the edge of Forever had ever found their way onto our TV screens. Well thanks to the work of some wonderful individuals we can now have something of a taste.
Some 50 years after the show aired IDW comics made the decision to produce Ellison's vision in the form of a comic book. The result of the work by writers Scott and David Tipton, together with the sumptuous artwork of J.K. Woodward is quite simply an astonishing interpretation of Harlan's work.

For a start there are some glaringly obvious reasons as to why the original story draft was tinkered with so much because there is an explicit harder edge to the narrative than any episode ever dared have. It is quite clear that having a violent crew member who spends part of his time on board dealing in illicit drugs doesn't exactly fit in with Mr Roddenberry's vision of a better future humanity - or with 1960's studio executives for that matter. In actuality, it is this renegade crew member who escapes through the time portal, not an accidentally stoned off his tits McCoy, thus contaminating the time line. 

As a matter of fact, fan favourite McCoy barely features in the story at all appearing in just the single scene. As it happens, it is the criminally underused (in the TV series) Yeoman Rand who is transformed from the role of Captains eye candy to that of a federation version of Xena-Warrior Princess as she shows her worth as a fully respected member of the crew. 

For all the 'advancements' in human society that the show envisaged in the future, gender equality was certainly one factor that had barely improved if the sixties version of the show was anything to go by. So it's rather nice to see a female character have a more nuanced place amongst the crew.

Another noticeable departure from the series is the more fractious relationship here between Spock and Kirk. If anything Spock here appears far more prone to grappling with the human side of his behaviour, particularly in the scene where he and Kirk argue over the positive merits of humanity after being attacked by anti-immigration mobs.

There is also a more complex interpretation of Kirks psychological state here as he struggles to cope with the responsibility of command as well as the terrible conundrum he faces with the decisions he will have to make.

The story here has a far more complex and darker tone than any TV episode whilst still remaining fairly true to the heart of Star Trek, something that won't please all fans - and that's OK. The story is beautifully written and so on a personal level for me the result is a far more satisfying story of genuine human emotion and behaviour that rarely was ever fully exposed on the screen.

As I mentioned earlier, the graphic novel looks truly beautiful and perfectly compliments the compulsive narrative - something I know for a fact that Harlan Ellison completely agrees with.

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