Let me get this straight right out of the gate: I have absolutely no problem with the new version of STAR TREK (2009) making its way around the world compliments of JJ Abrams and his crew. As a long-time Star Trek fan, I welcome (almost) any addition to the universe created by Gene Roddenberry, and I find it refreshing that the last movie inspired so many fans to once again embrace their `inner geek' so openly at the box office even though the franchise long ago ran the risk of beating a dead horse. Or a dead Klingon Targ. Or a dead Gorn. Take your pick. However, there's still something remarkably endearing to the various incarnations of Star Trek that came before, and I'm hoping that the kind folks at IDW Comics continue to bring us the welcome visits to "where no one has gone before" that they've been providing since they picked up the rights to produce comic books within the established continuity of Paramount Pictures' juggernaut franchise.
STAR TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT (Volume 1) is a stunning visual treat for the eyes and the best form of imaginative candy for the brain. Published in 2008, this graphic novel compilation collects six tales from the Star Trek universe with each chapter specifically focusing on a specific alien culture mostly unique to Trek's true origins, "TOS" (aka "The Original Series," for those in-the-know). Specifically, these writers and artists concern themselves with tales regarding the Gorn, the Vulcans, the Andorians, the Orions, the Borg, and the Romulans. (The Borg were first seen during STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION's television run; otherwise, the remaining five species were first explored in the original TV show.) Besides some absolutely stellar artwork and characterization, what works best in these stories is the fact that each one tries (and, for the most part, succeeds) in exploring what distinguished these species culturally from humans ... what makes them different, what makes them `tick', what makes them worthy of having a narrative with a decidedly alien focus.
No credible review would be complete without a quick plot summary, and I'm sure serious Trek aficionados will appreciate a rundown. "The Gorn" is set in the timeframe before STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, when Captain Terrell, Commander Chekov, and the crew of the Reliant crashlanding a shuttlecraft on a Gorn-occupied planet. "The Vulcans" is set in the timeframe of the starship Enterprise's Captain Christopher Pike facing his crews discomfort over having the first Vulcan officer in Starfleet - Mr. Spock - serving aboard his ship. "The Andorians" revisits the days of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and focuses almost entirely on Commander Sharad - an Andorian serving within Starfleet who returns to his homeworld only to find himself an outcast for embracing the ideals of the Federation. "The Orions" takes us to a time when Christopher Pike has been promoted to Fleet Captain, and is serving out his days mostly in an ambassadorial capacity; his visit to the infamous world, Babel, treats him up to an uneasy alliance with a beautiful but deadly Orion assassin. "The Borg" takes place (somewhat) during Captain Jean Luc Picard's cinematic adventures, with the Borg further attempting to assimilate mankind; this time out, their weapon is a temporal weapon that allows the Collective the ability to manipulate time. Lastly, "The Romulans" re-visits characters and situations previously postulated from the original series excellent episode, "Balance of Terror"; this chapter serves as a prequel to events unfolding in that episode, and it is a must for fans of Old School Star Trek.
The artwork is terrific. Colors are intense, and they lift these stories off the page. The writing is particular strong; the only story that lags a bit focuses on "The Borg," and that's mostly because there was a wealth of material plugged into what was a single-issue tale, one that could've easily been expanded upon into several issues or, perhaps, even a stand-alone novel. The strongest tales here are, arguably, those centered around the Romulans and the Andorians, and that's largely because those two one-shots visit the worlds in question. I would imagine that it's a rare occasion for a writer to visit these alien worlds - neither Andoria or Romulus has been given great exposure in any incarnation of Star Trek - so I can only guess that these writers were thrilled to do so in this graphic format. Not often do you get to play in a universe as vast as Star Trek, and clearly these storytellers took great advantage to spin yarns worth all of the ink. Established characters get great screen time here, and lesser or new characters make splendid additions. Quite frankly, the simple lines of costumes and sets have never looked better than they do in his magnificent IDW production.
What I found most endearing about this first volume - besides the fact that the title automatically implies that a second volume is on the way - is the fact that, much like Roddenberry himself expressed so eloquently with his TV show, differences between races are not so very distinct when measured against circumstances. Every race in the galaxy has honor. Every race experiences love and hate in its own way. Every race has triumphs and losses, and, when we're searching for the core message at the heart of these morality plays, it follows a very simple precept:
"We're all human."
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