Book Review: Star Trek: the Manga, Kakan ni Shinkou
Where No Manga Has Gone Before
Author: Michael Kure
I remember getting annoyed after STAR TREK ENTERPRISE met its demise on UPN. I wasn’t so upset about the series getting cancelled since most of the episodes I saw were either just plain lame or were so far removed from Star Trek that it wasn’t Star Trek. No, I was mad at the powers-that-be at Paramount who claimed that the low ratings for STAR TREK ENTERPRISE and box-office death of the STAR TREK NEMESIS movie proved that we, the fans, were tired of it all and that the franchise needed to rest and take a break for a couple years.
I was, in fact, dying for more Star Trek. Good Star Trek. And I wasn’t alone.
Thankfully,TOKYOPOP understood that and has published a pair of thick trade paperback books (each over 200 pages), featuring a collection of new stories done in the Japanese manga style. Star Trek: the Manga, Kakan ni Shinkou (meaning “To Boldly Go”) is the second of the two stand-alone volumes, and features five new adventures of the crew of the original Enterprise during their original five-year mission. But hold on, you say? Isn’t there a new TOS comic book series being published right now by another publisher? And isn’t the manga style too cartoony for Star Trek? Whatever your perceptions are of the manga form, or whatever your reading experiences have been, disappointing or otherwise, with other Star Trek comics past and present, you may want to give Star Trek: the Manga, Kakan ni Shinkou some minutes from your clock because you might surely find that gnawing itch for “good Star Trek” finally scratched.
Wil Wheaton, better known as “Wesley Crusher” of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, was born a few years after the original series STAR TREK was cancelled in its third season by NBC. Yet, as the writer of the lead story in this volume, he must have done his homework to so accurately capture the spirit of the 1960’s series and the chemistry between the characters of that time. Wheaton’s “Cura Te Ipsum” is a prime directive story which does bring in drama points we’ve seen before from other Star Trek episodes. But he does so with his own solid plot and expert story-telling. What writer Wheaton gives us is an original, compact and intelligent story that, frankly, buries the new TOS stories published by IDW deep into a super-dense black hole. Speaking of dense, my only gripe is that some pages are so wordy that the captions and word balloons overshadow the art. And yes, about the art, the pencils and inks by EJ Su with gray tones by Chow Hon Lam are pure eye-candy. Absolutely delicious to see and study. Su’s dramatic pacing, and his skill with drawing the hardware as well as the organics are impressive as hell. I don’t know if anyone else would notice, or even care, but holy moley, is that Gorn Rock I see on page 19? Su rocks for sure, but my only gripe about the art is that Spock looks like he’s like 17 years old and Mr. Sulu looks about 10!
Next up, we have “The Trial” written by first-time Star Trek writer Mike Wellman. Like Wheaton, Wellman did his research well and successfully applied his findings into an uneven 36-page story about Kirk on trial by an obnoxiously self-righteous alien race for all of his past indiscretions, as well as his accomplishments. Perhaps that sounds familiar, but to Wellman’s credit, he manages to offer a different perspective on the 5-year mission, and gives us a bit of insight into why James T. Kirk is who he is. I only wish that the conclusion was more satisfying. I do not share that remorse about the artwork, though. Artist Nam Kim’s work, at first blush, looks similar to EJ Su’s, but Kim’s line work is much sharper and his drawing of architecture is jaw-dropping amazing. The man could go blind drawing all that detail. My only gripe is that it looks as if Kim used the old Filmation STAR TREK cartoon characters as his model for Kirk, Spock, and even Sulu. The flatness of some of his figures and faces diminish the appeal of his art in some panels. But at least Kim gives Uhura a fresh and sexy “do”.
Ok, the next story featured in this volume is nothing short of classic, and I predict that years from now, Trekkies, Trekkers and just plain Star Trek comic book fans will rate “Communications Breakdown” written by Christine Boylan and illustrated by Bettina Kurkoski as one of the best Star Trek comic book stories ever, manga or otherwise. To quote one of my favorite movie lines, “Those are pretty bold words for a one-eyed fatman!” (Spoken by Robert Duvall to John Wayne in TRUE GRIT. And no, I don’t have one eye.) I am reluctant to say too much about the tale and instead would prefer you just go and read it. Suffice it to say, this one is all about Lt. Uhura, and the story takes place not too long after her near-devastating mind-wipe by the probe Nomad, as shown in the episode, “The Changeling.”
What makes this story impressive and special, is that you actually learn something new about a long-established character. Writer Boylan opens our eyes to who Uhura is and why she is such a valuable member of Kirk’s bridge crew. There’s a brilliant line spoken by Kirk about just that, but I won’t give it up here. As for the art by Bettina Kurkoski, she gets it. She drew this story as if it were a detailed storyboard for a 60’s era episode with great use of tight close-ups to the face and eyes, much how like the original series episodes were shot. Nice to see, too, that everyone looks their age. I hope editor Luis Reyes continues to keep this pair together and assign them more Star Trek: the Manga stories.
Next up is “Scaean Gate” by Diane Duane and illustrated by Don Hudson. I want to talk about the art first, and editor Reyes is on the hook for this one because I just have to know what is it about this story, as drawn by the talented Don Hudson, that is even remotely manga? Answer: Nothing! This is not manga; there is no manga influence of any kind; and as such, this story does not belong in a manga anthology. Just because the art is in black and white with some tones added in don’t make it manga! So, editor Reyes, what happened? People are paying $9.99 for Star Trek: the Manga, not Star Trek the Non-Manga! Don’t blame artist Don Hudson, though. You know what? His art in this story is better than any of the interior art in the current TOS series published by IDW, imho. In fact, for any of you old enough to remember the Star Trek newspaper strip from the 1980’s, Hudson’s style has a similar quality and charm.
The writer of “Scaean Gate”, Diane Duane, is a familiar name to Star Trek fans, having written for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and Star Trek novels. Here is another satisfying effort from the veteran. Duane expertly mixes in all the necessary ingredients to cook up a classic Trek, such as the Enterprise in peril, some onboard shenanigans with alien dignitaries, a blossoming romance between Dr. McCoy and a Queen-who-is-promised-to-another, and Captain Kirk just trying to maintain order amidst the chaos. My only gripe is that the story ran overly long at 37 pages, but I must say that I really liked the closing panels of the story. McCoy gets the last word in, and it is a sorrowful, but matter-of-fact one. Maybe editor Reyes can do a 2.0 version of this story in a future volume, but shorter and drawn in the MANGA style, neh?
The final manga tale is “Forging Alliances” by Paul Benjamin with art by Steven Cummings. In this adventure, Kirk accompanies Spock and his father, Sarek, on Vulcan to witness a ceremony. And of course, you guessed it – wherever Capt. Kirk goes, trouble follows. This time however, the trouble is home grown. Not unlike Tarzan of the Apes, a young Vulcan lad named S’Vol, son of a renowned scientist specializing in Vulcan wildlife, is thought lost and dead. The boy, since rescued and cared for by the feral, lion-like beasts known as le-matyas, attack the ceremony crowd. Violence ensues and there are major injuries to the boy and others. Kirk and Spock get the better of the situation and move wildboy to a nearby medical facility. But havoc follows once again. After the still-unconscious boy is brought there, the residing Vulcans, including Spock inexplicably lose all control of their emotions and start kicking the crap out of everybody! It’s Vulcans Gone Wild and it’s up to Kirk and McCoy to find out the cause of the madness and the cure.
This is a cool, fast-paced pleasant distraction which kind of skirts the surface of feeling like a zombie movie, except with crazy-assed sneering Vulcans instead of the undead. Art-wise, Steven Cummings style is similar to the first two artists featured in this volume, and yet, unique enough to be completely appropriate for a story with a semi-horror slant. Look at the way Cummings draws the expressions on the faces of the main characters during stress; it very much reminds me of the art on some of the old horror manga which used to scare the pee out of me when I was a kid. I can’t wait to see more from this guy.
But wait, there’s more! As a bonus feature, TOKYOPOP adds in a (non-illustrated) short story from The Sky’s the Limit, a new anthology book featuring tales of The Next Generation by several authors. Keep in mind that this story, titled Suicide Note by Geoff Trowbridge, is in prose form. The story is an indirect sequel to a Next Generation episode about the defection of a Romulan official, and his subsequent suicide aboard the Enterprise once he realized that his “important information” to the Federation was nothing more than useless disinformation fed to him by the Romulan government. Eight years later, an uneasy truce exists between the Romulans and the Federation, allowing Captain Picard to finally return to Romulas and deliver the suicide note written by the defector to his wife and daughter. Man, I didn’t think I’d like it, but I could not stop reading this short story once I started. I mean, I could actually hear Picard’s voice saying the words written for him by author Trowbridge and visualize everything as if I were watching the story unfold on TV. It was that good! Damn TOKYOPOP for throwing me this sucker punch! Now I’ve got to go and buy The Sky’s the Limit, too!
Star Trek: the Manga, Kakan ni Shinkou
Paperback: 216 pages