I penned an observation in an editorial piece just the other day: youthful audiences these days haven’t a clue how good they have it. I said that trying to explain what my young life in front of the Boob Tube was like – couch potatoes today have (literally) hundreds of channels to choose from while on a good day I was lucky if our house got six. Given the fact that our entertainment choices were so very limited, it’s easy to understand how the idea of a ‘fotonovel’ sprang into some inventor’s fertile imagination; we could even dream about ‘taping’ a program, so why not produce a photo-intensive trade paperback to tell a popular story from any of our favorite programs?
That’s exactly what happened when STAR TREK rose in popularity after cancellation and wider discovery in syndication. Eventually, a publisher decided to capitalize on the program’s feverish fame, and a new medium was born … one that just didn’t last …
Now, the good people at IDW have brought it back in glorious form by serving up STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS, a tale that feels some comfortable and familiar that no Trekkie, Trekker, or general Trek enthusiast would have difficulty accepting it as part of the never seen (and never produced) forth season of the Original Series.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind 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 …)
Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise are continuing their mission to boldly go where no man has gone before when deep space sensors pick up a mysterious transmission. In no time, Spock is able to isolate the source, leaving Kirk to realize his darkest fears: he’d done something wrong – very wrong – in his past, and now it’s all coming back to haunt him and those members of his staff who shared some measure of participation in it. As fate would have it, Gary Mitchell – long presumed dead from events explored in the television episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – may yet be alive; and he’s calling out to the crew from across great distances … calling them back to pay for their own misdeeds!
Perhaps more than any other franchise in entertainment history, STAR TREK continues to delight and amuse even its most casual fans with tales of the original crew. Kirk and company have seen life and death together, so is it really any wonder that Hollywood wonderkind JJ Abrams decided to take audiences back to the beginning – back to that era – in rebooting the stories of our heroes? After all, the fan base has been busy scarfing up books and comic books for nearly fifty years, and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t be captivated with the idea of continuing those original voyages. IDW and long-time Trek scribe John Byrne has done so with this installment of STRANGE NEW WORLDS.
Byrne taps back into that era with vastly greater competence than JJ and his behind-the-scenes crew, and he does so by picking up the story long after the demise of Gary Mitchell; he forces Kirk and his friends to revisit what they did, all the while setting the stage for the inevitable rematch between our beloved captain and the friend he left behind.
And why not?
To some degree, I was never all that comfortable with how Kirk behaved in “Where No One Has Gone Before.” I don’t want to divulge too much here for fear of spoiling all of the fun, but, in the end of that episode, Kirk drafts a blatant lie into the Starfleet record books for an entirely personal reason: he wants to ‘save face’ for his presumably deceased friend and fellow officer. This isn’t a matter of defying the Prime Directive – it’s a matter of behaving in a manner unbefitting a senior officer. Byrne’s tale explores those very ideas, giving greater understanding to why Kirk felt it necessary to do what he did as well as granting him the singular chance for redemption … both professionally and personally.
While I’ve no problem saying for the record that I’ve been a fan of Trek since those early days, I’ve also no problem saying that Byrne’s idea here does kinda/sorta paint itself into its own corner. Because the source material he’s pulling from (stills from the stories of the Original Series) is limited, there’s quite possibly only so many of these that can be told. Much like that seminal program, the majority of the tale will have to dialogue-driven; and there are parts of STRANGE NEW WORLDS that drag on a bit. Still, it’s great to see those original faces back in those familiar uniforms walking through some familiar paces. On that front, WORLDS is definitely inspired.
Count me in as one eagerly awaiting the next installment!
Beyond the story, IDW also delivers a terrific article that summarizes the history of the original fotonovels – a late-breaking 70’s phenomenon if there ever were one – as well as a culturally significant explanation of their demise. Lastly, there’s a great little interview with Byrne where he explains the idea behind such a ‘lost adventure’ and even the promise of more-to-come in the months ahead. Simply put, there’s plenty here for a true Trek aficionado to get excited about, and I, for one, would welcome much more of the same … if not MUCH much more!
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS is published by IDW Publishing. The photonovel was conceived, written, and composited by John Byrne. STAR TREK was created by Gene Roddenberry, and the story contains characters and situations originally created by Samuel A. Peeples. The issue comes with a cover price of $7.99 … and that’s in American money, not Quatloos.
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