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Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay for one of the best Star Trek episodes ever broadcast is finally brought to life by veteran Trek writers and artists from IDW Publishing. Spoilers for the first installment of a five-issue mini-series after the break.
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever, The Original Teleplay #1 of 5
Original teleplay by Harlan Ellison, adaptation by Scott Tipton and David Tipton, art by J.K. Woodward, letters by Neil Uyetake, edits by Chris Ryall
Two years into a five-year mission, with chronometers running backwards, the Enterprise follows a radiation source to a planet at the galaxy’s rim. In crew quarters, Lt. Lebeque begs another hit of the Jewels of Sound from Beckwith, who wants full details about anything the landing party finds. Lebeque gets his hit, but is so disgusted by his behavior on duty that he threatens to inform on Beckwith. Beckwith bashes Lebeque’s head and runs for the transporter room to escape. Kirk, Spock, Rand and six security crewmembers transport to the planet’s surface. They track Beckwith and the source of the radiation to a time vortex in an ancient city, watched over by the Guardians of Forever. As Kirk and Spock question the Guardians about Earth’s past and realize the staggering importance of this planet, Beckwith makes his move and disappears into the vortex. Stardate 3134.6
Winter is coming!
It’s generally tough to assess how a mini-series will turn out, based only on the first issue. If you aren’t familiar with Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay for The City on the Edge of Forever, you may be alarmed or outraged by events in this issue. I expect cries of “That would never happen on my Enterprise!” to ring out while this comic book is being read. That’s ok. Ellison’s take on how Starfleet personnel react to the stress of deep space missions is very different from any original series episode. That’s the whole point of this project, to visualize Ellison’s story as he wrote it.
I’m pleased that the Tipton brothers, Scott and David, have taken on the job of scripting the comic. Both are seasoned Trek writers and have a keen sense of what works in the Trek universe. I read a version of the original teleplay (there are serveral available) in anticipation of this comic, so I know what to expect going forward, but you don’t have to read the teleplay first. Just know that the Tiptons are illuminating a dark corner of the Star Trek universe and this first issue follows Ellison’s setup to the letter.
Anybody got the time?
I’m equally pleased that J.K. Woodward is the artist for this mini-series. Woodward’s painted art style has been featured in some of my favorite Star Trek comics and I think his work is well suited to Ellison’s vision of Star Trek. In this first issue we are treated to Lebeque’s mind-blowing reaction to the Jewels of Sound, and an exotic cityscape watched over by the cold and majestic Guardians of Forever. Every time IDW publishes a Star Trek comic with painted art, I hear lots of complaints. It doesn’t matter to me. I think Woodward is the perfect choice. The artist posted an interesting process look at the creation of art from issue #1. Check it out if you’d like to see how Woodward creates his painted artwork for comics.
The regular cover for The City on the Edge of Forever #1 is a riff on vintage science fiction paperback covers by Juan Ortiz, an artist who has made a name for himself, reimagining original series Trek with retro-style movie posters. His book, Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz, features posters for every original series episode. Ortiz is bringing the same sensibility to each of the five issues in this mini-series. The subscription cover is drawn by Paul Shipper, known for his work designing movie posters in addition to comics, and features an elegant portrait of Yeoman Janice Rand with Kirk and Spock. If you prefer slightly more traditional comic book cover art, Shipper’s work is outstanding. I’d like to see these comics printed in mass market paperback format with the covers created by Ortiz, just so I can line them up on my bookshelf with the Star Trek Fotonovels and other decades old Star Trek books published by Bantam.
Preview of The City on the Edge of Forever #1
Issue #1 also contains an essay by Chris Ryall, Only Time Will Tell: The Making of Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever Comic-Book Series. Ryall explains how the project evolved and discusses the creators who were selected to work with Ellison.
The City on the Edge of Forever #1 will be at your local comic shop Wednesday, June 18, and will also be available in digital format.
The history of late season one episode #28, The City on the Edge of Forever, and the tale of the epic changes to Ellison’s original teleplay, is a contentious and much-discussed element of Star Trek lore, complicated by the author’s legendary prickly personality. This beloved episode also has a lengthy publication history. The broadcast episode was adapted as a short story by James Blish for publication in Star Trek 2 (Bantam, 1968) and as the first Star Trek fotonovel (Bantam, 1977). The fotonovels were published in several languages around the world.
Although scriptbooks with Ellison’s original teleplay exist, the first mass market edition containing a version of the script was published in Six Science Fiction Plays, edited by Roger Elwood (Pocket Books, 1975). The script was accompanied by Ellison’s introduction to the trials and tribulations he encountered while trying to get his script produced. Ellison expanded on the script’s history and published the original script as a limited edition hardcover (Borderlands Press, 1995). The book was reprinted in hardcover and paperback (White Wolf Publishing, 1996). You can also download and read an ebook version (Open Road Media, 2014). If you’re interested in the history of this episode, I don’t think it matters which version you choose to read. This isn’t a complete list of all editions. They’re all interesting, just pick one. Click on the book covers for more information about each book.
Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever #2 is scheduled for release July 16. That’s all for now.
Mark Martinez is an obsessive-compulsive Star Trek comics reader and collector. You can visit his website, the Star Trek Comics Checklist for more than you ever needed to know about Star Trek comics.