Tokyopop has released its third Star Trek manga comic book collection this month, and it includes solid comic narratives and perhaps one of the very best Star Trek panel stories of all time. Titled Uchu (which translates to "Universe"), the volume includes four stories set in the original five year mission, including tales from Wil Wheaton and David Gerrold.
REVIEW – UCHU
Uchu contains four Star Trek Original Series stories illustrated in the manga style. Each gets its own mini review, below:
Art of War
Story by Wil Wheaton, art by E.J. Su
"Just as I don’t represent all men, Kring can’t represent all Klingons"
– Captain Kirk
Fans of Wil Wheaton’s blog or books know him to be an adroit writer of nonfiction, an almost Mark Twain for the geek crowd if you don’t mind such a comparison. Yet his "Art of War" story shows he is talented with fictional narratives, too. The story involves Kirk and a Klingon named Kring both trapped together in a collapsed mine on the planet Angrena. The "enemies forced to cooperate" situation isn’t unique to science fiction or to Star Trek, be it the film Enemy Mine or "The Enemy" and "Darmok" episodes of TNG. These kinds of narratives succeed if there is something different about how they are told and if they provide the reader with something to think about with the characters or a social lesson. Wheaton does all of these things with his comic.
The story begins with both Kirk and Kring having to answer for their behaviors of helping the other person survive. One side of the page tell the story from Kirk’s experience, the other side of the page is from Kring’s. This allows for a juxtaposition of the Federation and Klingon cultures throughout the narrative. Also, we learn something about Captain Kirk and his decisions here show why he is such a great leader. There is also a social lesson here about not treating people, especially the enemy during war, as stereotypes. It is a lesson which is in the grand tradition of Star Trek.
The art by E.J. Su is effective, although one of my complaints about manga comics and Star Trek has historically been the lack of colors. The tradition for manga is of course black and white art, yet Star Trek’s tradition is bright colors. In fact, colors are an important storytelling device in Star Trek, from adding danger to scenes with red shirts to reinforcing the symbolism of diversity. I am not suggesting that a manga should have colors, it is that the lack of colors for a Star Trek comic are disconcerting and obviously distracting. That being said, Su’s art is quintessential manga art, with sharp lines that show the expressions of the characters in exaggerated and fun styles.
Art of War: Story: 10 out of 10, Art: 7 out of 10
Kirk does his thing in "Art of War"
Story by David Gerrold, Pencils and Inks by Don Hudson, Tones by Steve Buccellato
I take no more than the usual enjoyment from your discomfort, Doctor McCoy.
David Gerrold has told Star Trek stories in a variety of formats, from novelizations ("Encounter at Farpoint " novel), to teleplays ("The Trouble With Tribbles" as an example), to fan films ("Blood and Fire") to comic books. What is interesting is that like most writers, Gerrold doesn’t let good ideas sit on his shelf. "Blood and Fire" is an update of an unutilized TNG script. "Bandi" was actually a script Gerrold discussed with Gene Coon before "Tribbles" was sold and is discussed in the 1970s behind the scenes book "The Trouble With Tribbles." The story seems mostly unchanged, which isn’t a bad thing because it is a funny character tale, although now, ironically, it reads as derivative of Tribbles.
Gerrold hasn’t lost any of his ability to write funny dialog without being ridiculous. Spock and the Doctor are great together, here. Plus, Gerrold’s humorous comic has serious subtext, especially its effective discussion as to whether hate is something people chose. What is good is that the tone of this is so different than the other comics, something Star Trek does on television and the feature films, varying its style and motifs each week. Also enjoyable are the injokes of the names of the crew and the Federation station that Gerrold has utilized in his narrative (we won’t spoil the surprises here).
While the art is more like DC or Marvel comic books, there are unmistakable manga influences and the art is excellent. The art also helps teach those unfamiliar with manga that the form has a variety of styles.
Story: 7 out of 10, Art: 10 out of 10
"Bandi" is the comic relief in "Uchu"
Story by Luis Reyes, Art by Nate Watson
I feel nothing, Doctor.
Did you ever read the Star Trek short story "Make-Believe" by Allyn Gibson from the 2006 Constellations collection from Pocket Books? If you did, you probably know what I am going to say. Once in a while, a Star Trek story is so incredibly good that it stays with you forever. "Make-Believe" is like that, an amazing story that is so emotional and unique that it qualifies not only as great Star Trek, but great literature. You may feel similarly about a story about feelings, "The Humanitarian" by Luis Reyes. This is a character study of Spock that is surprising in its ability to surprise. I thought I had this story figured out, then it becomes something entirely different. The story speaks volumes about the character of Spock, and places him in a situation he has not really experienced before. How does someone who professes not to have emotion, yet who knows he really does, deal with such an illogical situation? There is an emotionalism to this story that makes it something special. "The Humanitarian" is much more than a comic book, it is Star Trek literature at its best.
Nate Watson’s art reinforces the emotions of the story, especially with his use of silhouettes. When Spock leans against a wall in silhouette, much like a character previously shown in the story, the effect is amazing.
Story: 10 out of 10, Art: 10 out of 10
"The Humanitarian" captures the Kirk/McCoy relationship
Story by Nathaniel Bowden, Art by Heidi Arhnold
Greetings. I am Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. I represent the United Federation of Planets.
Here’s an irony about "Inalienable Rights." Of the four narratives of Uchu, it is the most like the original television show. Yet, it is the least effective and enjoyable. Everything is here that needs to be here. There is the humor which is excellent and derived from the characters. There is the notion of exploring a strange world. There are social lessons, especially if warp capability actually means a culture is advanced enough socially as Star Trek usually argues. There is even the Captain Kirk lothario notion. It should be a great adventure, yet it is only diverting and not very effective. Perhaps the real problem is that we never learn about the Mols who are crucial to the story, Plus, Captain Kirk’s solution at the end is more like the TNG era. In fact, it is pretty reprehensible that Kirk leaves the situation when he involved himself with Jeena. He is not that kind of character. Bowden’s narrative has many classic Trek features, yet it needed a rewrite and a few more pages of exposition. That isn’t to say this is a bad comic, yet it is certainly the least effective of the group.
The art is very effective though. The alien culture of Makon is realized and the characters look like ones that might have appeared on a Star Trek episode of the era with a slightly better budget.
Story: 6 out 10, Art: 9 out of 10
Kirk has an awkward first contact in "Inalienable Rights"
Uchu is a worthwhile addition to your Star Trek book and comic book collection, if for nothing else than the unique style of Wheaton, the humor of Gerrold, the classic episode narrative of Bowden, and most especially, the must read script by Reyes. The name Uchu is appropriate because of the universe of styles here, both with the narratives and the art.
TokyoPop have online previews of all three of their Star Trek mangas available at their website.
Uchu is available now at Amazon
More Trek Manga on the way
Next March the three TOS editions of Trek manga are being combined into the "Star Trek Ultimate Edition" or "Kanzenban" (meaning "collection" or "omnibus"). The Ultimate Edition will include exclusive bonus pages and one of the stories will be presented in color, a first for the Star Trek mangas. Fans are being invited by Tokyopop to vote on which story from the previous volumes of Star Trek The Manga should be published in color for the Ultimate Edition
The Ultimate Edition Manga Collection is available for pre-order at Amazon
(cover and title not final)
After three editions of Manga from The Original Series, Tokyo Pop is ready to head to the 24th Century. Their next manga "Star Trek: The Next Generation Volume 1," which includes another story by David Gerrold, is available now for pre-order and comes out next April.