Monday, August 14, 2006

Star Trek: The Manga: Shinsei Shinsei

The long-awaited Star Trek manga from Tokyopop has arrived in comic shops. Some thoughts:

Published in standard Tokyopop manga format (trade paperback closer to mass market paperback than comic book size), this is a collection of new comic stories done following the graphic conventions of Japanese manga, though most of the artists involved aren't Japanese. The cartoonish and sometimes simple style (not to mention sound effects captions in Japanese characters and other manga trademarks) may take some readers by surprise, but the art is reasonably good throughout. Unfortunately, few of the artists do a very good job of capturing the looks of the regular characters, perhaps because they're trying to be faithful to manga styles while also trying to create recognizable likenesses. None of the artists follow the approach used several years ago by Atelier Lana in his unofficial Star Trek manga, Star Trekker, in which the regulars were drawn realistically and new characters were drawn more cartoonishly.

As for the stories themselves, all set during the time of the original TV series, they're a mixed bag. They suffer from being relatively brief, around 32 pages on average. At least a couple of stories seem to have been written with the intention of bringing popular manga tropes into Star Trek, but that's not a problem; though "Orphans" is a giant mecha story, it actually works pretty well. At times there's something of a Gold Key feel to the stories: they're too short to allow much in the way of plot complications, much less character work, a couple of the stories offer overly familiar situations, and I sometimes got the impression that a couple of the writers and artists weren't as familiar with the original Star Trek as they could be. (The only contributors who have written Star Trek before, as far as I know, are Mike Barr, who wrote Star Trek comics for DC and has also written prose Trek for Pocket, and Chris Dows, who did some writing on Malibu's Deep Space Nine comic.)

The book isn't something I can rave about unreservedly, but it's an interesting experiment, and one I'd like to see repeated, perhaps with another Star Trek series. (How much of the planned TNG manga was finished, anyway?) I'd buy more Tokyopop Trek. Well, of course I would. I buy everything. But I'd look forward to it with curiosity and anticipation rather than dread, which is more than can be said for a few Star Trek books I can think of.

But wait, there's more!

The best thing in the book is the story by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore from the forthcoming Star Trek short story anthology Constellations, which is also set during the run of the TV series but which, being prose and getting a lot more words on the page, is more able to capture the feel and tone of an old Star Trek episode. I knew Constellations has an excerpt from the manga, but I didn't realize the reverse was also true. Ward and Dilmore provide a story that really feels like classic Trek: there's the old friend of one of the big three characters who's apparently gone rogue on a pre-warp planet, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have to find her. It's an intelligently done Prime Directive story with some nice character work.


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