Thursday, April 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Manga: Boukenshin

Spoilers ahead.

Tokyopop's first Next Generation manga, following three TOS volumes, is another mixed bag. Boukenshin (Adventurous Spirit) features three returning writers (David Gerrold, writer of "The Trouble With Tribbles," a few Trek books, and a lot of original SF; Diane Duane, writers of several Trek and fantasy novels; Christine Boylan, whose only previous Trek credit is in a TOS manga) and one new contributor, F.J. DeSanto.

Gerrold's story, "Changeling," is an underwritten sketch of a lesson story. Picard sends Wesley Crusher, on his first mission as an ensign, along with several of the senior officers on a mission to "the Labyrinth of Wisdom [...] the nexus of powerful energies." Despite being told to wait and be careful, Wesley keeps assuming he knows what he's doing and jumps on something that changes his appearance. Each time it happens, making him resemble (and act like) Geordi, Worf, and Deanna, he faces a challenge related to that person's skills. Turns out it was a holodeck lesson for the cocky young genius, who needed to be taught "about brains, courage, and heart." How the holodeck gave him Troi's empathic powers is never explained. It's a generic lesson story, making a cardboard character have some transformative experiences with some other cardboard characters. The dialogue is weak, too.

Duane's story, "Sensation," is a definite step up, as Deanna is faced with what at first seems to be a medical mystery at an archeological site on an alien planet. It feels like a TNG episode. The art by Chrissy Delk is also an improvement over E.J. Su's extremely minimal manga style art for Gerrold's story; Delk's work is stylized, and still in the manga mold, but shows more of a flair for characters and backgrounds.

Boylan's "The Picardian Knot" has an interesting idea -- Picard has become strangely unemotional after his mindmeld with Sarek -- but the story, involving an encounter with Romulan commander Tomalak and an ancient artifact, feels a little underdeveloped. And I really didn't care for Don Hudson's art.

DeSanto's "Loyalty" ends the book on an appropriately mixed note. Again, it's a good idea -- Riker is ordered to meet with several Starfleet senior officers and offered command of the Enterprise on the grounds that Picard, following the Locutus incident, is hopelessly compromised -- but several pages are wasted on making a point of the meeting being some kind of ultra mega top secret session. It makes perfectly good sense for some kind of inquiry to be held into whether Picard should be removed from his position; it hardly seems necessary to hint at it being Section 31-related. (I may be reading too much into it; it's all hush hush and Riker, in an unfamiliar part of HQ, escorted by silent security guards in nonstandard gear, asks "Never seen this part of HQ before, what's this section called?"but gets no answer.) Still, Riker manages to make the case for Picard. Some familiar faces, including Philippa Louvois and Elizabeth Shelby, appear as well.

So far, I think IDW's conventional American-style comics are doing a better job of telling stories that feel like Star Trek than Tokyopop's manga version. Perhaps a volume with only two longer stories and artists trying to be less faithful to manga conventions would allow the writers to tell deeper and better characterized stories with art that serves the story rather than demonstrating adherence to a particular style.


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