Nixon… er… Nixons, Gary Seven, the Praetor, Koloth, cloaks, and Roberta Lincoln… what’s the common thread? John Byrne brings us the final issue of "Assignment: Earth" and the first issue of his new Romulans series, "The Hollow Crown." Will Gary and Roberta save the day? How is the crown hollow? Will John Byrne entertain and amuse us yet again?
Assignment: Earth #5
Timeline: Five months ago. John Byrne has just started a series that I didn’t have high expectations for, at least partly due to my dislike of the original Assignment: Earth episode and spin-off concept. Now. Wow. I was eagerly awaiting (and dreading) this final issue in the series. Byrne has taken a concept I wasn’t fond of and made it the second best series IDW has published to date. To this point in time, the only IDW book that has topped this series is the "Klingons: Blood Will Tell" series by the Tipton brothers.
Like that series, Byrne has taken episodes from the original Star Trek series and expanded on immeasurably. Back stories for the characters are filled out and, even when the regular characters from the television show make an appearance, they are obviously not the focus. As the series has progressed, it’s moved further away from typical Star Trek and into territory that the spin-off television show might have strayed into, had they had a sizeable budget. Don’t take that as a knock against this series, as Byrne’s comics and artwork allow us to see a past that never had a chance to see reality. After all, what is the likelihood of Nixon making an appearance in a television show where he is duplicated!?
Like in the other issues in this series, the characters all have a definite Byrne bent and don’t always look exactly like their real life counterparts, but this is the comics, not real life. He continues to fill in lots of detail in the panels, and as the series has progressed, there are fewer panels with no backgrounds in them and more time has been taken to make them more lifelike. In this issue, Byrne also presents a penchant for using very irregular panels (as shown above) to present the story. No straight lines across the page for this man – the overlapping panels give the story a much greater feeling of movement and momentum, something that the actual story carries nicely.
The plot seems a bit typical of a spy movie with a replaced identity, but Byrne does throw in a few nice twists and turns along the way, including the epilogue, showing a real segment of a famous speech of Nixon’s. Tom Smith rounds out the series providing the color for all five issues, and, like his other four outings, brings a nice feel from the 60s and 70s to the page. This coloring helps the artwork feel like it is presenting a real story from the era. Finally, like the last issue, this one features a short story showing an interaction between Isis the cat and Roberta Lincoln, and has a clever denouement. A good chuckle to finish off a fantastic series. I hope that if Byrne is able to do a second "Assignment: Earth" volume, that he is able to keep up the high standards.
Romulans: The Hollow Crown #1
John Byrne’s other book this month revisits the story he began in his contribution to the Alien Spotlight series back in February. While Tom Smith did the colors for the "Assignment: Earth" series, Leonard O’Grady returns to help continue the Romulan story, dragging Neil Uyetake back to continue the letters. Tom Smith’s colors worked well for the Assignment: Earth series, and in the same way, O’Grady’s really suit the Romulan stories that Byrne is presenting.
The story in this issue picks up shortly after the events of the “Balance of Terror” episode that nicely fits in between this issue and the previous. Unlike the last issue, the time span of this issue is much longer and seems to span over most of a year, passing through the events of “The Deadly Years”, as one of the Romulan ships that surrounds the Enterprise has Gaius, the Romulan Commander’s son on board. Where the last issue avoided giving any of the periphery characters names, this one names a number of them, including the Commander’s son and wife (Lady Arenn if you must know), but still leaves the Commander’s name out of events.
This second part (of the apparent trilogy) picks up where the first issue left off in terms of political intrigue, plotting, alliances, and appearances of Klingons in unexpected places. Byrne visits some past favorite Klingons and introduces Koloth to the party, and the look is strikingly like William Campbell’s original look some 40+ years ago. For a man who claims that he cannot draw proper likenesses, he is obviously underestimating his talent. In an effort to not spoil anything in this issue, I won’t say any more about the events, only that the story sets things up nicely and leaves us on something of a cliffhanger. Fantastic.
Whether he is starting a new series or finishing another, Byrne hits the high points and doesn’t disappoint at all. The wrap up to the "Assignment: Earth" series was easily on par with the rest of the issues, and brings the series to a nice close. If this is all we get in terms of "Assignment: Earth" stories, it’ll be disappointing, especially seeing what the possibilities can be now. For the new Romulans series, my biggest disappointment there is that we’re likely not going to see a proper trade paperback collecting the entire Romulan series (including the Alien Spotlight issue) at any time soon, as three issues aren’t really enough to justify releasing one. So, buy the issues and put them with your Alien Spotlight one and make your own TPB for the interim!
Byrne’s Assignment Earth #5 and Hollow Crown #1 are in comic shops now
Covers for AE5(left) and HC 1(right)