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TrekInk: Review – Byrne’s ‘Romulans’ February 25, 2008

by Alex Fletcher , Filed under: Comics,Review , trackback

Cloaks, Trickery, and Romulans
In this TrekInk column we review IDW’s final issue in the "Alien Spotlight" series. Comic legend John Byrne doesn’t disappoint with this Romulan point of view from the classic TOS episode "Balance of Terror."  We also take a look forward and preview Byrne’s upcoming projects with IDW (for both Trek and other comics).

This coming Wednesday (or if you’re reading this after that, sometime in the recent past on a galactic scale), IDW will be releasing their first piece of work with the legendary comic book author and artist John Byrne. This issue is also the sixth and final issue of their fourth Star Trek miniseries, the "Alien Spotlight". After stories about Borg, Andorians, and Vulcans, we finally meet the Romulans.

John Byrne has been a Trek since The Original Series, even writing a still-unsold screenplay at the tender age of 18. But this Trek comic almost didn’t happen due to Byrne’s own self-consciousness. According to an interview with Newsarama, Byrne declined IDW’s offer of a comic because he felt his likenesses were "so bad," but he then suggested that maybe he could do "one of their alien races books" and it is a good thing he did.

This is not Byrne’s first encounter with the Star Trek universe. Back in 1979, the final issue of the Gold Key comics series (more information) was to feature a security guard with his name, and another with Dave Cockrum’s name. In 1987, DC Comics published a pair of "Who’s Who" books, and tapped all of their artists for contributions to the book. Byrne was called on to draw five characters for those, including Sarek and Khan Noonian Singh.


A Romulan warbird, and their classic overconfidence (click to enlarge)

"Alien Spotlight: Romulans" tells the story of the events leading up to the first encounter with the Romulans on the original series in “Balance of Terror”. Byrne brings in all of the characters from the Romulan ship and fills in their backgrounds, giving us more of a reason to understand them and the reason for their actions. He doesn’t give them names, which is an unusual choice, but at the same time, when friends and workmates address each other, they tend not to use the names all the time, so it’s something I’m willing to accept.

The artwork feels like classic comic book artwork, which is not a surprise, due to Byrne’s pedigree. After years of work on the X-Men with Chris Claremont, the Fantastic Four, and his revamping of the Superman mythos in the mid-1980s, Byrne has history and a style all of his own. This issue continues in that style with characters that don’t quite look real and generally simple backgrounds (with occasional panels with very detailed backgrounds). The colors and shading add a lot of life to the panels, setting up the intrigue in the story. And it’s the story that’s the real reason that we’re here.


The Romulan Commander realizes the proper way to get ahead… ass kissing! (click to enlarge)

And what a story it is. According to Byrne, Paramount had him remove some elements from his story, but the story fits in really well with what we’ve seen. Byrne, in 20 pages, makes us have sympathy for the Romulan Commander and realize that he’s been put into a situation that just isn’t to his liking. As noted, pretty much all of the Romulan characters from the episode make appearances, and there are a couple of extra characters including the Romulan Praetor, and a couple of surprises beyond that.


The Praetor asks his guest how good things will be (click to enlarge)

More coming from Byrne
Fortunately for us, this is only the first of several Trek comics from John Byrne for IDW. Since this issue was announced, IDW signed him to draw the Wayne Osborne scripted "FX". (More information) In addition, Byrne suggested a miniseries based on the "Assignment Earth" episode from the original series featuring Gary Seven, Roberta Lincoln, and Isis. According to Byrne’s interview with Newsarama, “Issue #1 would start in 1968 and then each issue after that would jump one year ahead.” Byrne also noted that “toward the end I want to touch on Nixon’s visit to China, which was in 1972.”


Assignment Earth Covers
(click for larger version at IDW’ Editor Chris Ryall’s site)

 

More Previews

Earth Experiment


Mirror Image

Coming up next week
A special guest column from IDW Editor Andrew Steven Harris.

Comments

1. trekee - February 25, 2008

That’s wierd seeing such old school drawings….

I thought world + dog now CGI?

2. trekee - February 25, 2008

Hmm, I should clarify – I don’t mean shiny, 3D high polycount rendered CGI, I just mean that this looks like it was never near a computer for even the colouring or a little bit of photoshoppery on the lighting.

Makes me feel like I’m six again, looking at stuff like that….

3. trekee - February 25, 2008

Oh, and third!

4. Battletrek - February 25, 2008

Byrne is awesome, made me give a crap about comics when he revamped Superman. Great artist.

5. JB Gestl - February 25, 2008

I loved the Fantastic Four when he was writing & Drawing them!

6. Iowagirl - February 25, 2008

Real drawings, made by a real artist. Awesome! And Byrne’s take on BOT seems in line with the original episode, as sympathy for the Romulan commander was already part of the TOS storyline.

7. Lukas - February 25, 2008

Hmm maybe they should show all the Romulans in this film wearing the helmets that way they don’t have to dea with the issues of the ridges….

8. Stanky McFibberich - February 25, 2008

re: 2

In other words, the way comics SHOULD be.

9. PaoloM - February 25, 2008

No CGI at last. It was time for some fresh air!

10. Irish Trekki - February 25, 2008

Just not fair, I get up early and everything and still not first lol.
Comic looks cool, concept is impressive aswell!

11. Garovorkin - February 25, 2008

# Skeptic that I am on Star Trek Comic, Johns Byrnes work here looks fabulous.

12. Andy Patterson - February 25, 2008

1

“such old school drawings”

Wow. Old school. What looks right to me and was new and unique in the beginnings of my teen years is now considered old school. I don’t feel that old.

13. Cranston - February 25, 2008

#8 Stanky —

Indeed.

14. AJ - February 25, 2008

I was an avid comic reader in the 1970′s but Trek somewhere never translated well IMO. The ships always looked bad, and this one is no exception: Wobbly nacelles, and one “wing” seems longer than the other.

And I thought then that Byrne’s work was outstanding. I’m sure this a good read, too.

15. Star Quack - February 25, 2008

“This issue continues in that style with characters that don’t quite look real and generally simple backgrounds (with occasional panels with very detailed backgrounds). ”

That’s how “old school” is defined? just because the faces aren’t over-rendered with too much cross-hatching and multiple light sources and over-Photoshopped lighting effects? Okay, now I do feel old. Gimme Kirby, Toth, Barks, et al.!

16. Trekboi - February 25, 2008

having read the (incomplete) goldkey reprint series and the old 80′s comics- since titan didnt go past issue six i am actually looking forward at it and the simplistic/immaginative charm of this “old school” art that is not just about photo realism.
yummy!

17. Batts - February 25, 2008

Very interesting covers!!

18. maspill - February 25, 2008

since when do ships talk thats not cannon !!

19. Daoud - February 25, 2008

Beautiful work.

Mayhaps we could have Byrne on a comic version of Star Trek (2009)? Here’s a case where his self-perceived inability to match live actors’ visages wouldn’t be a problem: it might even help if he just aims for a Shatneresque Pine, a Nimoyan Quinto, a Kelley-like Urban, Nicholsish Saldaña, and a Doohanic Pegg.

If anything, he’s doing some top notch Romulans, and I’d like to see him doing Nhierraufv and his henchmen.

20. Andy Patterson - February 25, 2008

18

since when do ships talk thats not cannon

That sounds like Byrne is revisiting his work on Star Lord from the ’70′s. That ship talked. Loved that book.

21. star trackie - February 25, 2008

nice work.

I like it when comic artists make men..or Romulans, for that matter… look like men. I’m SO tired of the anime style where everyone-including the men- look like 12 year old girls….with big eyes. As someone noted earlier, tis a breath of fresh air indeed!

22. Chris Basken - February 25, 2008

re: CGI, I believe even in this, the colors are done via Photoshop. It’s not about the tools, folks, it’s about the artist behind them. There’s nothing about using a computer that says you must over-render your shading.

re: likenesses, I think Trek (and IP-based comics in general) look better when the artist gives us his own take on the characters’ faces, rather than trying to slavishly reproduce them. Nothing turns me off faster than looking at (say) a Trek comic and it looks like all the artist did was trace stills of Shatner and Nimoy.

23. j - February 25, 2008

Finally–TOS Romulans. Yay.

24. S. John Ross - February 25, 2008

I remember many years ago when Byrne got a bit burned on Paramount approvals when he did the INDIANA JONES comic with Marvel … the approvals folks at the time had some misunderstandings about the medium they were approving*, so they were asking for re-dos on pages they had already approved in outline, already approved in script, already approved in pencils and then after the inking was done, they wanted changes. D’oh :) Byrne stepped away from that comic after doing only a couple of issues (possibly for unrelated reasons), but they had been such very, very good issues … sigh.

So, glad to see him back in the licensed-comics saddle, doing something that looks like a lot of fun (especially the Gary Seven stuff – woo!)

———–
* This still happens today**, especially when a new approvals staffer is being broken in.
———–
** Well, it still happened 8-9 years ago, anyway. I’m not up on what still happens _today._ :)

25. The Lensman - February 25, 2008

#18
since when do ships talk thats not cannon

Huh? Where is a ship talking? There’s a panel that shows an exterior view of the ship, while someone inside is talking…..but where does the article say that a ship talks?

As for Byrnes style….not quite real looking? How do you mean?
I collect comics and his style, while unique, is hardly “less real” looking than the large majority of comic artists out there. Not everybody draws like Cassaday, Hitch, or McNiven.

I really wish Byrne would take on an April or Pike based Trek series.

26. max - February 25, 2008

I’m not crazy about some of Byrne’s work over the past few years, but this looks like a return to form for him. It looks very nice. I’ll keep an eye out for this if it goes to tpb.

27. Alex Fletcher / Sulfur - February 25, 2008

#26: The Alien Spotlight series is (apparently) being collected in a TPB in a month or two. Not 100% sure on the dates.

#12 + 15: Old School. Well, maybe not for everyone, but I grew up in the early 80s, and kinda fell off of the comics scene around 1993 (or so) before getting back into them a couple of years ago. I find a lot of the art in new comics very hard to take (someone else mentioned that it was very “anime-like” I believe, and I have to agree with that). I wasn’t trying to suggest that “old school” was bad, by any stretch, and sorry if it came out that way. It is one thing that I did like about older comics — a lot of emphasis is put on the characters and their actions, and not so much on what’s behind them. When there’s something behind, it’s for setting purposes and done to give you an idea of where they are. Not something that needs be done in every panel.

#25: Not quite real in the sense that all of the perspectives are slightly distorted, the faces aren’t quite the correct shape, and so forth. It’s one of those stylistic things that you see a lot in the “older” comics (ie.. those from about 20 years ago) that you really don’t see anymore. Most of the newer comics (that are not stylized) are (as someone else noted) very photo-realistic. In some ways, it’s almost losing some of the old magic. Having grown up in the older era, it’s nice to see some of that magic return.

28. I AM MONGO - February 25, 2008

Mongo like real art in comics. Must have skill to be thought of as artist.

Pictures pretty, but Mongo no read comic book in years. Graphic novels turn Mongo off. That is place for books.

Maybe Mongo give comics try again. Comics shop good place to buy Trek Toys. And guy behind counter not like dude from Simpson’s. This guy helpful and not make Mongo feel like clueless doofus. Mongo work hard for money and spend at place he feel welcome.

Mongo rambling. Time for feast.

29. Andy Patterson - February 25, 2008

27
it’s almost losing some of the old magic. Having grown up in the older era, it’s nice to see some of that magic return

Si Senor.

15

Gimme Kirby, Toth, Barks, et al.!

To paraphrase Sinatra from “The Main Event”. . . .Throw in some Buscema “and ya’ got it made”

30. Allan Cook - February 25, 2008

“Not everybody draws like Cassaday, Hitch, or McNiven.”

…and thank god for that!

31. JCB3 - February 25, 2008

#24

You are right, I recall Byrne mentioning in an interview that the Indiana Jones experience was the reason he refused to work on licensed properties thereafter. And he kept that promise, I believe, until these recent efforts, which has been a shame, because Byrne is one of the best artists in the business at capturing likenesses. I recall his great renderings of some of the original series characters which he contributed to the “Who’s Who in Star Trek” encyclopedia comic that DC Comics did back in the eighties. They were miles ahead of the other artists featured in the book.

32. jonboc - February 25, 2008

I like it. The crisp clean computer generated art in so many comics is nice and the youthful cookie-cutter anime-style faces are fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. But this is Star Trek. The people on these pages need to feel familiar, but above all else, they need to seem unique, with character written across their faces….just like real people in the real world. I’m happy to say these panels look great. Might actually buy this one.

33. Alex Fletcher / Sulfur - February 25, 2008

#31: I read in another interview with Byrne (can’t find the damned thing now!) that he was given photographs and told to trace them for the old “Who’s Who” books. If I find that interview, I’ll reference it in a future column.

34. Bp - February 25, 2008

I find this article adequate.Yes, there is a tremendous amount of adequacicity here. In fact, of all the articles regarding Star Trek comics that I read today, this is certainly the most adiquatious.

35. Anthony Pascale - February 25, 2008

Alien Spotlight Trade Paperback

TrekMovie.com has recently added a widget that tracks new and upcoming books, novels and trade paperbacks from amazon. It is on the right column and the Alien Spotlight Trade is there…just click the link

36. Garovorkin - February 25, 2008

I know that the Gary seven episode was supposed to be a pilot for a never made series, after seeing those comic Panels it makes me wish that one had come to pass because I found both him and Roberta Lincoln to be interesting characters worthy of a series.

37. Denise de Arman - February 25, 2008

Garovorkin#36- Could very easily see the adventures of Gary Seven, Roberta Lincoln and Isis in the comic media, with Roberta and Isis constantly at each others’ throats. That would have been unending entertainment.

38. Bjo - February 26, 2008

A word to IDW…

When you combine solid storytellers and artists on your titles, you get quality products that someone like me will actually buy.

Most of your Star Trek releases to date have been poorly drawn. Sometimes, cover art may sell the book, but after buying a couple of issues, I find myself thumbing through the latest ones on the racks/shelves–and leaving them there. I can’t bring myself to buy these “Star Dreck” issues.

And it really hurts, given my enjoyment for some of your other titles. IDW is failing to put great talent with a great license.

Thank you for hiring John Byrne for the upcoming Trek books. His contributions are very welcomed. I hope you try other artists par excellence, from Matt Busch to Mike Grell, even Neal Adams. Guest writers and guest artists who UPLIFT the work with their talents are sorely needed for IDW Star Trek titles.

Signed,
Someone who would enjoy supporting/buying your Star Trek books again (if the quality, a la John Byrne, were a constant)

39. Andy Patterson - February 26, 2008

36

“it makes me wish that one had come to pass because – worthy of a series”

Yes it was.

40. MrRegular - February 26, 2008

Byrne’s “Romulans” are on my list of things to buy this spring. The character and old-school artistry is a breath of fresh air reminding me of the comics I grew up with in the 70s.

41. Romulus and Remus - February 27, 2008

I just finished reading the Byrne-drawn “Romulans” issue.

NO SPOILERS, I promise.

For someone that claims he’s not good at caricatures, Mr. Byrne captures the likenesses of various characters spot-on.

Loved his planetside shots; wasn’t terribly enamored of his space shots.

Nailed the Romulan Bird-of-Prey. Can’t say I was happy with his drawing of another starship.

Serious issues with the interactions between the Romulan leadership/military.

WORTH BUYING. This issue has its flaws, but is a joy to read–and eventually pick up and re-read.

(Makes me wonder if one of the characters eventually returns in J.J.’s forthcoming Star Trek movie… ;-) )

42. Joe Zhang - February 28, 2008

John Byrne is a tired old hack. his faces are rubbery and cartoony and his writing just stinks.

Plus he is a sexist, racist prick – not someone Roddenberry would want working on his creation. Byrne is a grave robber trying to make a buck of someone else’s hard work.

Ok well im off to a pie eating contest with Matt hawes!

43. Allan Cook - February 28, 2008

Oh look, a troll.

Anyway…

Curious if anyone else has picked up this issue yet, and what are your thoughts?

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