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Let’s talk about Star Trek February 25, 2019

Posted by sjroby in Star Trek, TV.
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There’s a new TV series. It’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation all over again, a brightly lit show of mostly standalone episodes about the crew of a very comfortable looking ship. The humans, aliens, and artificial life form work together on the nice big bridge, many of them hang out in the nice big lounge after hours, the captain’s got a kind of thing with one of his officers, the security officer is an alien, and hell, the doctor used to be on Deep Space Nine. The main character, of course, is the captain, a white guy. And many people with Star Trek connections work on the show, from writers to directors to guest stars.

And there’s another new TV series, one that doesn’t look a lot like Star Trek of any generation, one that started out pretty damn dark and got darker before the new season lightened up quite a bit, one that is heavily serialized, and has some new elements that seem hard to fit into canon as we thought we knew it. (No, I’m not talking about the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, though it fits just as well.) The main character isn’t the captain or even a white guy. It doesn’t have too many people who worked on past incarnations of Star Trek, either.

Obviously I’m talking about The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve seen a lot, and I mean a lot, of disgruntled Star Trek fans proclaiming that The Orville is the real new Star Trek and Discovery is an abomination. And you know what? They’re wrong.

Star Trek — the original — wasn’t like much of anything else at the time. Star Trek, the animated series, was different from the original in several ways — being an animated half hour show, for one, but it also introduced new regular characters and new technology (life support belts and an early version of the holodeck). Then in 1979 live action Trek returned, but everything looked and felt different — uniforms, the ship, relationships between characters, and holy cow, the Klingons. Then the very next movie changed the look again, with a more military feel and new uniforms, and a new character with some kind of history with Spock, and suddenly Kirk has a son?! And Spock dies?!

1987: a whole new ship, a whole new crew, a whole new look and feel, and some significant changes to what we knew about the Federation and Starfleet. Meanwhile in the movies, suddenly Spock has a half-brother. 1992: a TV show not even set on a ship, but on a starbase, where instead of seeing something new every week, we see a smaller number of things, but in much more detail, and supporting characters evolve and become as important as the regulars. Then Voyager takes us away from the Federation and all that’s familiar and plops us a long, long way from home. And Enterprise is a prequel series that doesn’t look like the original series at all, and suddenly the Vulcans are a lot different, and…

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Every time Star Trek comes back, it’s different. It tries something new. It changes its format. It changes its balance of continuity/arc elements and standalone stories. It brings in new people behind the scenes. Even if it doesn’t quite go as initially planned — Voyager and Enterprise had a tendency to do TNG retread stories too often — they started with the goal of going where no Star Trek series had gone before.

Which brings me to The Orville and Discovery. Discovery is unmistakably going where no Star Trek has gone before in many respects, despite frequent nods to canon, from using characters like Mudd, Pike, Spock, and Sarek to revisiting (previsiting?) the Mirror Universe. The Orville is a retread of TNG, from its look and feel to its supporting characters too obviously drawn from TNG characters to its plotlines to… well, at least the focus on dick jokes was new, if immature. But The Orville is bound and determined to go exactly where Star Trek has already been before. Seth MacFarlane knows and loves Star Trek, but instead of taking the next step into the final frontier, he’s stepping back. He’s making a show in 2019 that looks like 1989. Discovery, on the other hand, is moving forward, making Star Trek that looks and feels like 2019. The Orville is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like watching TNG reruns with someone cracking jokes. Discovery, on the other hand, has me wanting to see what comes next. The characters matter a lot more to me, and so do the ongoing arc elements.

The real Star Trek is the one with Star Trek in the title. Not just because it’s in the title, but because it’s doing what Star Trek has always done.

(And how cool is it that it’s doing well enough that we know we’re getting several more new Star Trek series?)

A tale of two crossovers January 30, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Star Trek.
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cover80320-mediumcover80325-mediumSPOILERS!

There be spoilers in this reviews written in exchange for Netgalley advance e-copies of recent Star Trek/Green Lantern and Conan/Red Sonja crossovers. Be warned.

Crossovers are an eternal temptation in the comics biz, and Star Trek comics have been no exception. Various Star Trek characters have encountered the X-Men, Planet of the Apes, Doctor Who, Legion of Superheroes, and now Green Lantern. One lesson that seems to have been learned along the way: if you don’t have many issues to work with, don’t spend a lot of time on meet and greet/getting to know you stuff. Go straight to the action and let the characters fill each other in with a little dialogue along the way, and assume the reader knows enough already.

This one packs as much story and action into its limited amount of space as it can. You’ve got Green Lantern’s universe destroyed in an epic battle with Nekron, the surviving Lanterns dumped into an alternate universe (the current movie version of Star Trek), members of the Enterprise crew and assorted aliens getting power rings, battles involving Federation, Gorn, Romulan, and Klingon opponents alongside the Lanterns, and then the Enterprise crew and the Lanterns teaming up against Nekron on a zombie version of Vulcan. Not a lot of sitting around talking. The Trek side of the dialogue seems appropriate enough, and the art is quite good.

Definitely an alternate universe tale for both sides, because it ends with the Lanterns staying in the Trekverse and a lot of political turmoil in various unfriendly empires. Light and fast-paced enough to be reasonably entertaining even if you don’t like chocolate in your peanut butter.

Meanwhile, in the Hyborian Age…

Robert E. Howard created Conan as a brawling adventurer, mercenary, and, eventually, King in a long forgotten age. He created Red Sonya of Rogatine as a one-off character in a work of real world historical fiction. Roy Thomas, writer of the original 1970s Conan the Barbarian comics from Marvel, adapted Howard’s Sonya into Red Sonja, a warrior woman of Conan’s time who would have occasional encounters with him. She proved popular enough to get a solo run in Marvel Feature and then her own comic, though that didn’t last too long. She was brought back by Marvel for limited runs, had a series of novels, and a movie, then disappeared.

When Dark Horse brought the Conan comics back, they passed on the idea of reviving Red Sonja, so Dynamite brought her back, and with evident success. I haven’t been reading their series but I’m pretty sure they long ago surpassed the number of Marvel Red Sonja comics.

Red Sonja began as a Conan character, so a crossover is an easy proposition. Just have to have the rights owner and the comics publishers on board. No need to introduce the characters to each other or to each other’s world, as they already know all that, and the reader doesn’t need any introductions either. So, straight to the story.

The main problem here is that it’s a very familiar story. A bit of battling armies, a little debauchery, more battling, then up against a wizard and an old enemy. I feel like I’ve read this story quite a few times already. It’s done well enough but I’ve seen it all before.

One other quibble: these are the comic book versions of these characters. Howard’s Conan wore clothes pretty often, and his Sonya did as well. But the stereotypical image of these characters is still the same as they appeared in the early 1970s comics, Conan in a furry loincloth, Sonja in a chainmail bikini, both looking unprepared for a real fight. Marvel tried to present a more believable Sonja in a 1980s miniseries, but Dynamite took her back to the classic sexist look, and the artists have a field day drawing her body for the delight of… well, whoever reads comics and doesn’t have access to real women or Playboy magazines, I guess. It looks silly more than anything. But so does Conan, so what the heck. This would be a fun enough diversion for someone who used to read the comics years ago and wants a quick hit of nostalgia.