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Star Trek, The Next Generation: Forgiveness

Writer: David Brin

Artist:  Scott Hampton

Price: $24.95

Publisher: Wildstorm Comics, ISBN Number: 1-56389-850-0

Say whatever you want about classic Star Trek, but at least they let science fiction and genre writers do some of the writing. The cast of legends who wrote classic trek includes Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote over three episodes. Nowadays, whenever I look at the credits of your basic science fiction show I very seldom see anybody who actually writes and publishes science fiction. The new Treks seem to be a sparse place in particular although I remember a gem of a DS9 story written by John Shirley from way back about short-term time travel. Writer John Barnes once told me that there’s too much real money involved to actually let science fiction writers write televised science fiction. Yeah, that makes sense in our Bizarro-like world.

So, when I read about the new David Brin Star Trek Graphic Novel I was definitely looking forward to it. The story is called “Forgiveness” and features the Next Generation cast of Picard, Data, and Beverly Crusher. Brin, who had the misfortune of having Kevin Costner taking one of his books to the Big Screen, is also making waves as a nonfiction writer concerning the ideas of what it means to live in a world of constant surveillance by tiny tiny omnipresent cameras.

Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t that impressed with “Forgiveness”, which was drawn by Scott Hampton, whose artwork I even found flat. It’s not Scott’s fault that Alex Ross decided to have a career as well, but whenever you look at painted art you’re forced to compare. Scott’s work looked a little underdone and stiff in comparison and there’s nothing of the Ross genius for capturing facial emotion. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for $24 bucks. If this was an episode being rerun in perpetuity on TNN, then I would probably skip it. It’s as forgettable as the vast majority of Voyager episodes.

Here’s a sample of the well-meaning pedantic plotline:

Captain’s Log: We are en route to a meeting with the Palami race, who after fifty years have appealed for their release from their punishment quarantine. On most federation worlds, public opinion runs heavily against forgiving the Palami for the biological crime they committed two generations ago. But we are bringing a federation envoy to hear their request. The ambassador seems unlikely to agree to end their quarantine. After all, the federation is at war. Our struggle with the Dominion is going badly.

Yawn. I bet something ennobling and spiritually enriching will happen. The story means well. It attempts to tell a tale of how we actually had transporter and holodeck technology a full 100 years before the accepted date in Star Trek continuity but reactionary religious forces, fueled by a Big Business transportation lobby that doesn’t want change, managed to stifle and destroy the technology. For those of us who are wondering when we’ll be getting those stem cell grown organ implants and our off the grid solar generators then you can just insert your own joke here. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the story’s dual Big Messages that reactionary religious forces will attempt to stifle productive research and that some research deserves critical safeguards. But the graphic novel feels much more like an articulate argument that I already agree with rather than a living, breathing comics story where picture and word are fused perfectly into a compelling narrative. Not to mention that time travel and holodeck stories have been done to death in Trek. And in these times when Alan Moore is consistently writing books of a stratospherically high standard then something less than brilliant simply won’t do. I suppose I would expect David Brin to attack the question of why there isn't a surveillance society in the Trek Future. (On the micro level, your average Star Fleet officer should have as much tech as your average Borg...Why aren't there nano sensors everywhere?) This is a competent tale, just not inspiring and certainly not worth $25 bucks. It is also, at least for me as a person who’s probably watched every Star Trek episode ever made, not a startlingly original Trek premise.

Green Lantern: Will World

Writer: J.M. DeMatteis

Artist: Seth Fisher

Price: $24.95

Publisher: DC Comics, ISBN Number: 1-56389-782-2

Now if you’re looking for a comic that’s worth 25 dollars, then I highly recommend picking up the Green Lantern graphic novel Will World.

The story involves a spectacularly surreal rite of passage that Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan here) have to go through in order to more effectively wield the power of the ring. He also recites the Alfred Bester penned Green Lantern oath at least once or twice. But the star of this show isn’t the story but the incredible pencils of Seth Fisher. The only thing I might compare it to is that New York gallery level Dr. Strange annual that P. Craig Russell drew those many years ago. There are out and out homages/thefts of Man Ray, Escher, Magritte and Dali that burst from the page, not to mention the continuous suggestive ooze of Bill Plympton's animated mutations. It features a squealing zoo of bizarre images, such as: Giant Floating Heads, tiny people, people with six arms, flying carpets, flying saucers, architecture gone mad (Indian palaces mixed in with future organic skyscrapers mixed with Chinese houses standing beside a rundown tenement building, etc.) pipe smoking gorillas, zeppelins and of course Alien Grays. It has just a small touch of Moebius dappled with the sensibility of the Beatles Yellow Submarine Cartoon. It’s the kind of thing that would make Windsor McKay fume with jealous anger. And that’s just the first splash spread on pages 8 and 9 of this 96 page epic.

Stunning stuff. Not unlike walking through a living, acid tinged dream. I mean, I don’t do drugs, but there are times when you’re reading or listening to something where you get the faint sense that you’re missing out by not being under the influence of, well, something. Every panel screams jarring and disorienting: a floating pixie here, giant levitating heads, a Joker card that features the Joker, towering 20 story clowns with lamprey-like arms, not to mention Green Lantern’s head occasionally exploding into figures of people or a great twisted swirling cacophony of alien faces and organic vinelike strands…


This is worth $25 bucks. Seth Fisher Panel From Wild World.

Highly recommended. In fact, when computer pundit Robert Cringley's predicted cheap foldable plastic displays are a reality, this is the kind of art that I’d like to upload on my walls.



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Writer, Artist: Frank Miller, Colorist: Lynn Varley

The Dark Knight Strikes Back

Issue One of Three, 80 pages

Price: $7.95

Publisher: DC Comics, ISBN No. 1-56389-870-5

“The world spins MAD. The PEOPLE are so intoxicated by LUXURY they have forgotten everything that makes us more than just HOUSE PETS. REASON. TRUTH. JUSTICE. FREEDOM…EVIL has seduced mankind. And MANKIND has shown all the chastity of a three dollar WHORE.”
    --Tone Defining Quote From The Question (The original Rorshach)

It’s an interesting and completely fictional world that Frank Miller gives us. We have a hologram for a president (a virtual figurehead) and it’s completely in the control of evil special interests. It’s a fictional imaginary country that has given up its civil liberties in order to eradicate crime and terrorism. It’s a fictional pretend country that defines peace when all of its enemies, real and imagined, have been killed. It’s the kind of a fictional country, whose resemblances to countries real and or imagined is merely coincidental, that has passed a Freedom From Information Act. It’s the kind of country where it’s director of Homeland Sec-, uh, “National Security Enforcement” assures us that an act of terror came from a rogue nation, but he doesn’t have to bother you with the detail of telling you what evidence he has to prove this, and he gets mad at maverick reporter Jimmy Olsen for daring to ask the question.

Like I said: This is a completely fictional United States. Why, I’d have to stretch my limited perspective to untold dimensions to even imagine such a Hellish Pottersville Mirror Mirror reality where such irrational and foolhardy tradeoffs have been made. It would not be unlike a potential blacklist of professors who aren’t sufficiently patriotic or an allegedly free media acquiescing to government suggested self-censorship during a time of war. Wild eyed Nova Express, David Lynch plotted kind of stuff is this.   So hard to conceive of such a place, like the Metaverse or Middle Earth or the Matrix. What will these fiction writers think of next...

Luckily, in this completely fictional and made up world, run by a Hulking Kingpinish Lex Luthor (He’s not that good looking smooth guy in television’s Smallville) there are heroes “who battled tyranny and defeated it at every turn”. That must be nice and probably more effective than the ACLU. It also makes for an exciting, fight-filled and slick comic where the heroes answer that Watchmen question: Whatever it is that you super people do anyway. In the Frank Miller world, heroes fight against political injustice no matter how profitable the machine is. Miller, like Moore and others, has turned around the conceit that superheroes are innately fascist. What could be more anti-fascist than fighting against fascism?

Usually I try to review comics for people who aren’t really into comic books. This is a comic book for people who like comic books. I can’t say it’s as original as the first Dark Knight Returns because the reinvention of heroes has continued nonstop since Watchmen, all the new Alan Moore ABC books, Brian Michael Bendis, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City and probably a dozen other titles that I can’t remember. In fact, so far, the recent Alex Ross/Mark Waid Kingdom Come is probably a shade better. But it’s only issue one of three. We'll see where it goes. I also think that Miller needs inker Klaus Janson. He’s the one element that’s missing from the original Dark Knight series.

The main thrill here is Miller’s reinterpretation of these classic heroes. His Superman is aging and gets winded while saving the space shuttle. His Captain Marvel seems to be an out of it grey haired square who expresses anger in the manner of forties movie characters from the Bronx (“You Bum.”).  His Wonder Woman has African American features. And Batman can beat Superman, in an almost cartoonish Mad Magazine style kind of way. That’s a spoiler by the way. And when you’re a captured superhero who the state is angry at, you’re invariably naked. I don’t know why. There are also some cool science fictional elements. Afterall, Miller was inspired by the living robotics in Arthur C. Clark's "Rendevous with Rama" when he wrote Ronin those many years ago. He's down with Science Fiction. The Frank Miller Atom fights off bacteria and rides Internet transmissions throughout the country. The president is a hologram who’s programmed for compassion levels and occasionally flickers out. Professional Evil Doers Lex Luther and Brainiac use the shrunken Bottle City of Kandor to blackmail Superman.


Frank Miller's Plastic Man.

This is definitely a cool read, not in the Promethea league, but impressive. This is pure comic fun, dubbed with an edgy political subtext.

Random Notes: I highly recommend that you check out the La Weekly overview on comics. Their Alan Moore feature is particularly impressive. It also has a stunning page of Promethea that you have to scroll down to. If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, then enlarge this image. On a related note, there's talk again of turning Watchmen into a feature film. Personally, I wish that Watchmen would be done as a 12 episode limited series by HBO. Let Terry Gilliam direct and get out of the way.  It would perfectly complement The Sopranos and Watchmen needs that kind of time, unless Peter Jackson wants to do it in nine hours (But I kind of hope he does the Foundation trilogy next...Just a dream spoken out loud.) Gandolfini would make a great Comedian by the way. Hmmm....Christian Bale or William Hurt as Ozymandius (Longshots: Chris Walken, Julian Sands or Sting.). Dennis Hopper must be Rorshack. Russell Crowe as Doctor Manhattan. Alec Baldwin, Jeff Bridges (Beau?) or Bill Macy as the newer Nite Owl and Gandolfini would make a good Nite Owl as well...And speaking of Star Trek: I like the new Enterprise series but I hate that theme. Suggestions: How about "Maiden Voyage" by Herbie Hancock? It sounds futuristic and its on point theme wise. Or why not let Beck remix and sing it? I appreciate that you're trying to go modern, but a song that sounds like Loverboy or Journey isn't modern, it's mediocre corporate rock, sung by an opera star no less. The themes for both "Earth: Final Conflict" and "Smallville" are way better. And if you're looking for a real goddamned theme then check out the Cartoon Network's "Cowboy Bebop". That rocks....By the way, I now have a message board here so feel free to loath me in real time.