‘Star Trek: Year Four’ Review
When I was a wee lad of, oh, let’s say 13, to hear the words "untold tales" was a thrill in itself.
"What’s that, you say? In this story, I will discover that Wolverine met Spider-Man’s parents for about an hour several months before the web-spinning super-hero was even born? And it turns out Green Lantern’s landlord was once involved with the Russian mob? Awesome! How did I live before now?"
But now, I am in my mid-20s, long past the prime of life, and my standards are a mite higher. A story that fills in gaps of the past for its own sake just isn’t enough. It must also be a good story by itself. It must be able to entertain me and interest me and, if at all possible, elicit emotional reactions from me that would make even a positronic android react with a cry of "Neat!"
And so, let’s talk about the first comic book miniseries entitled Star Trek: Year Four (IDW Publishing), which was written by David Tischman and penciled by Steve Conley, and which has recently been collected as a trade paperback. In the original Star Trek TV series, Kirk informed audiences every week that the Enterprise was engaging in a "five-year mission" of exploration. Sadly, the show was cancelled after its third season. Tischman and Conley’s series attempts to inform us all about just what happened next, long before the time that the Star Trek films picked up.
Of the many Star Trek crews, I personally enjoy the team of the original TV series the most. So, when I heard about this project, I was excited. Perhaps more stories with zany premises such as "Abraham Lincoln needs us to help him fight some nasty bad guys" or another visit to the Chicago Mobsters planet from the episode "A Piece of the Action" (which you have to love, if only because you get to see Kirk trying his best to be Frank Sinatra in Robin and his 7 Hoods). Maybe a reappearance by the mysterious Organians or another visit to the Mirror Universe.
At the very least, I could get some fun dialogue and interplay between the wonderfully Freudian triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy and fun-loving characters such as Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov. How can you not enjoy a crew who would constantly bicker with each other and give each other friendly guff at every possible opportunity?
But alas, not so much. The first chapter seemed promising. The Enterprise crew find a strange, seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. A scientist with a mysterious agenda is at the heart of it. There’s an alluring woman who capture’s the captain’s attention. And a security agent, red shirt and all, is killed by a strange creature. These are all staples of a classic story from the original era of Star Trek.
And then it ends. Everything’s wrapped up in just a couple of pages and the crew leaves, never to call on this planet again. And herein lies our first problem: The story of an hour-long TV show does not fit perfectly into a 22-page comic. You either have to shorten the story or extend it over multiple issues. Otherwise, you get a lackluster tale that seems more like a treatment or an outline rather than a full-blown. standalone adventure. This trend sadly continues with each issue. I see some good ideas and a few good lines, but I keep feeling as if I’m missing real substance.
A second problem is the artwork itself. With rare exception, every panel resembles a widescreen movie shot, with four such shots per page. This is a comic book. To have every page arranged and laid-out in the same way gives the impression of a static, dull formula. The art also seems lazy at times. Rather than keep a full conversation in one panel so we can save space and move on with the story, two identical panels will be shown, one with the first person speaking and the second showing the response made to that statement or question. And that’s half a page wasted righ there. At the end of Chapter Four, our heroes are actually missing their faces for a couple of panels on the last page. And overall, there’s a distinct lack of emotion in the art. It seems artist Steve Conley was more focused on making sure the characters looked like their live-action counterparts rather than making their faces emote.
Finally, we come to the fact that these stories are not taking advantage of the medium. In television, you have devices not available in prose or on a comic book page such as background music, slow pans and moving visual effects. In a comic book, you have the option to do monologue captions, thought balloons, strange angles, multiple point-of-view narrations being presented simultaneously. Here, readers get the bare bones of action and a few word balloons.
The miniseries serves its function well enough, but it felt rushed and seemed as dry as the planet Vulcan. Where’s the drama? The insight into our characters? The only new element that was added was that it had the character of Arex, who had only appeared prior to Year Four in the non-canonical animated series. Yes, Kirk and the rest kick ass and save the day. Guess what? I already know that they survive to fight Khan many years later, so I expect them to kick ass and survive. I need something more than just six short stories of "same old, same old." It’s a shame, because I really wanted to like this project.
Perhaps the next Year Four mini will be better.
Alan Kistler once tried to start a water-balloon fight on Vulcan, with disatrous results. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures as a comic book historian and can be seen on the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. He really wishes Marvel or DC or the kind folks at Doctor Who would realize he has some fun story ideas to share and write. His personal web-site is http://KistlerUniverse.com.
The popular tradition was that the three seasons of TOS was the entirety of the five year mission. A lot of that time was spent mapping and travelling between systems, so they could be mapped. I recall there were supposedly plans to bring Harry Mudd back in season four should it ever have gotten done; no ideas about any more than that. It'd be interesting to see if there were any treatments or anything lying around that could be used for projects like this, like Will Murray used to write new Doc Savage books based on Lester Dent's notes.