I’ve had some experience with IDW Publishing, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t much care for them as a company. Oh, this isn’t to say that I dislike their properties; rather, I like them immensely. It’s just that – and this is entirely based on my experiences – they fill out their corporate staff with folks who are relatively unprofessional if not downright unkind of critics such as myself who work entirely in the world of the web and/or social media. They’ll offer you the chance to receive materials so that you can pen reviews … then they’ll vanish from the world as quickly as possible and never so much as return an email. Not very clever, IDW, especially when those of us in cyberspace are still reading, writing, and reviewing, eh? Especially when those of us who’ve tried to work with you actually moderate for several Trek-related websites?
I won’t grind my ax. Instead, I’ll offer up an honest no-bones assessment of the title I purchased myself since you were so unkind as to disappear into the ether on me.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
For the uninformed, Star Trek’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER was originally written by a writer who courts controversy at every turn, a man named Harlan Ellison. Over the years, I’ve read a fair share of Ellison’s work; and – while I’ve always admitted that I’ve never been all that impressed with it – I can certainly see some words and ideas of inspiration as much as the next bloke. So as a lifelong fan of all things Star Trek I’ve long been familiar with Harlan’s “contribution” to the franchise’s mythology; granted, I’ve never really taken the writer’s word for it (at face value) – by his own admission, he’s burned a lot of bridges in his wake – but it’s nice that nearly 50 years later he’s still willing to spin whatever yarn fans are willing to purchase.
Since taking the reins of the STAR TREK comics publishing license, IDW has turned out a handful of quality works. Much of it that I’ve read has been garbage, honestly – a fault I don’t lay entirely on their shoulders directly but on their decision to honor the ‘creative impulses’ of Roberto Orci, one of the “writers” JJ Abrams’ brought on board to craft the silver screen tales of Kirk and company. Like Ellison, Orci courts controversy at every turn – why not, especially when your drafts are so disrespectful of existing Trek lore – taking it upon himself to barely stop short of spitting on Trekkers, Trekkies, and general Trek enthusiasts at every opportunity. It’s a curious decision, but, hey, whatever pays the bills, right?
Despite IDW’s conclusion to avoid the ‘blue ink’ by instead focusing on Ellison’s original story, Trek fans might find it hard to do so, and I say this largely because Gene Roddenberry made many claims over the years about why the said tale didn’t ‘work’ the way it was but only one distinction did he offer universally: the said teleplay as provided by Harlan simply “wasn’t filmable.” The dynamics of weekly TV production being what they are, then it isn’t hard to see when flipping through these pages why Gene made that decision: not only is the scale of the production debatedly much more vast than what could’ve been accomplished in those fertile days long before CGI, but the situation and characterizations within don’t even seem consistent with Star Trek.
For example, Harlan’s tale opens with one crewmember basically extorting another crew member over his shipmate’s addiction to some rare galactic PCP. Was the writer unaware of Gene’s vision for tomorrow? Our species was supposed to be the ‘good guys’ in outer space, not bloated druglords gallivanting amongst the stars! The curiously addicted Mister Lebeque – basically a redshirt, though he’s wearing gold – endangers the crew by driving the Enterprise “into the red” and has to be relieved from duty.
Once Kirk and Spock and (ahem?) Yeoman Rand go about trying to capture the resident kingpin Beckwith – the man has sealed himself into the transporter room – Ellison chose to have the brave and bold captain pass off duties to take charge of the situation and blast the doors open to … Yeoman Rand? Stylistically, this is just a huge, huge miss on the writer’s part, one that defies any logical reason. Why would the captain surrender said responsibilities to his yeoman when Security or even his first officer (Mr. Spock) should rightly rise to the challenge?
I could go on with the circumstances on the world below – it’s safe to say that what Ellison imaged for that ‘City on the Edge’ and the Guardians differs pretty significantly from what ultimately ended up on the small screen – but methinks you get the point. (My chief complaint with the events is that, once they’re on the world below, no one seems to remember that they came down with a purpose in mind – apprehending the escaping Beckwith – and instead go about like wide-eyed children mesmerized by aliens and alien circumstances.) At this point, I tend to agree that what Gene repeatedly consistently throughout the years – that the story wasn’t filmable – was probably much closer to the truth than perhaps Harlan would let on. This isn’t to say that his story isn’t epic or not worth being considered; the jury is still out with that as this is only the first chapter.
Still, it’s a compelling vision, one I do agree with IDW deserves to be told if for no better reason than to see what could’ve been. The artwork is stellar, and – no matter how hard JJ and his crew try to remake the Magnificent Seven in their new universe – Shatner, Nimoy, and the others remain firmly positioned in my mind’s eye; thus, it’s great to see them back in top form looking the way they did in the late 60’s. It’s an inspired trip, indeed; I only hope the writing gets more inspired as it goes.
STAR TREK: HARLAN ELLISON’S ‘THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER’: THE ORIGINAL TELEPLAY is published by the deliriously unfriendly to social media outfit better known as IDW Publishing. The original teleplay is by Harlan Ellison; this particular adaptation is by Scott Tipton & David Tipton; the (stellar) artwork is by J.K. Woodward; with lettering provided by Neil Uyetake; with editing chores completed by Chris Ryall. The issue comes with the cover price of $3.99 (digital), a bit steep for something so old (if you ask me).
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. To a certain degree, I can agree with the sentiments raising by Editor Chris Ryall in the issue’s afterward: why necessarily revisit all of the controversy involved with Harlan Ellison’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER: THE ORIGINAL TELEPLAY when Trek fans really are only interested in seeing how it all would’ve / could’ve / should’ve looked? That could be because the story as conceived by Ellison wasn’t filmable (as Roddenberry has long suggested), so perhaps this is the only way to do justice to what the original scribe intended. On that front, CITY looks glorious, and I’ll definitely follow it until the finish.
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