September 2007, TokyoPop, Inc. – contributors: Wil Wheaton, Ej Su, Christine Boylan, Bettina Kurkoski, Mike Wellman, Nam Kim, Diane Duane, Don Hudson, Paul Benjamin, and Steven Cummings
When I read on Wil Wheaton’s blog that he would be appearing at Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd. last week, I decided I’d find no better opportunity to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation than by meeting TV’s Ensign Wesley Crusher. Wesley’s character has been the topic of much heated debate among TNG fans; some argue that his innocent, adolescent role provided a conduit in which fans could project themselves and, through his wide-eyed wonder, vicariously interact with the Enterprise and its crew. Others dismiss Wesley as Gene Roddenberry’s shallow attempt to insert himself into the cast, with his frequent though unlikely successes merely shameless self-aggrandizing; after all, Wesley was Roddenberry’s middle name. Either way, last Wednesday night, Wil Wheaton played a much less controversial role for me: a wormhole to the past – with his presence, yes, but a bit more so with his contribution to Star Trek: The Manga volume II.
The audience’s muse? Impossible kid genius? Whatever else Wesley Crusher was, Wil Wheaton is an excellent writer that proves he can handle himself at the helm of any Enterprise…
Star Trek: The Manga: Kakan ni Shinkou is the second manga Trek volume published by TokyoPop, boasting the publisher’s standard “pocket-sized” format (though still read, thankfully, in the West’s traditional left to right). Featuring six stellar short stories starring the Original Series crew, Kakan ni Shinkou is meaty volume in more ways than one; all of the stories are surprisingly long but not unnaturally lengthy (one of my criticisms of the serialized manga format), and most of them proudly include TOS standards like the meaningless death of a Red Shirt, a morality tale shrouded in a space-faring adventure, and most importantly the definitive interplay between Roddenberry’s trinity, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. While they often steal the show, the rest of the cast make their presence known, as well; Uhura even saves the day in one installment, thanks in small part to Nurse Chapel’s encouragement. This volume boldly goes exactly where the Original Series has gone before, but, this time, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Simply put, Star Trek: The Manga will satisfy fans that have been disappointed with IDW’s surface-scraping Star Trek: Year Four. (As has your friendly neighborhood Geek, check out Klingon: Blood Will Tell for a strong TOS comic series. – AD) You’d think some of these scripts were found in Roddenberry’s typewriter.
Consider Wheaton’s story, which pits the Enterprise in the middle of a dying planet’s civil war in a desperate attempt to mine its rich dilithium crystal supply. Skating the edge of the Prime Directive, Kirk and his crew find the means to medically and spiritually heal the world’s diseased, fighting factions, thanks to an herb coincidentally growing around a dilithium vein. Hey, what’s Star Trek if not black and white morality shrouded in interstellar coincidence and irony?
“The Trial,” written by Mike Wellman, borders parody when Captain Kirk is kidnapped and put on trial for his indiscretions… namely, all of them! Though diehard fans (or even a casual TOS fan like me) might scour their collective memory to pinpoint a specific injustice for which Kirk deserves trial, the accusation is a bit more generic and in fact nothing more than a plot device for the overall concept. Still, the characters ring true and emphasize the dichotomy of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy’s begrudging friendships. Regarding the other three tales: “Communication Breakdown” is an overdue “Uhura Triumphant” kind of story, “Scaean Gate” reveals that Dr. McCoy has a way with the women, too, and “Forging Alliances” explores what happens when a Vulcan really loses it. Each is an enjoyable story with a considerable amount of action and intrigue.
Further, what makes all five of these installments definitive to their subject matter is the specific manga style used in illustrating them. Ranging from photo-accurate caricature to wide-eyed anime-like exaggeration, the cast’s expressions, posture, and mannerisms are finely detailed to transcend their native actors’ performances to become truly distinct iconic personas. Interestingly, in almost all of the stories, Kirk never really looks like William Shatner, but those broad shoulders and that recklessly tossed spit curl screams, “Kahn!” just as surely.
For a mere $9.99, Star Trek: The Manga: Kakan ni Shinkou is a five-story mission of pure guilty pleasure. (The TNG short story “Suicide Note” by Geoff Trowbridge, excerpted from the upcoming Pocket Books anthology The Sky’s the Limit, is a Picard-centric added bonus!) Briefly meeting Wil Wheaton would’ve been enough, but these supplemental Trek adventures prove that the franchise will live long and prosper no matter who’s at the helm.
Another huge thanks to Russ for his fantastic review and taunting photo of the writer and Wil Wheaton… Thankfully, I too have such a photo. Now, if he poses with Gates McFadden, I’m gonna’ be bummed. Make sure you pop on over to his site and enjoy his additions to the 52 Comic Challenge. – AD