AAl & Irish Gav review the TOS movie comics

As all seven Kirk-and-crew films have had comic book adaptations, we (AAl and Irish Gav) thought it might be fun to give them a look. Here’s what we thought.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Marvel comics, 1979

AAl: Late 70s Marvel is the perfect choice for adapting this ponderous, slightly trippy story. They even call it “a twenty-third century odyssey” on the title page — a nod to the shared inspiration of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Marvel produced an absolutely bug-nuts insane adaptation/spinoff of that flick penned by none other than Jack Kirby.) The art here is… okay, I guess. I can tell who everyone is (something that doesn’t always happen in Trek comics), but everyone seems very squinty for some reason. If you guys are squinting now, you’re really not going to like those lens flares in 30 years. Overall, there’s nothing particularly special about this. The writer and artist do their best with what they have, and actually manage to make it seem a bit more action-packed than the movie did. But there are no amazing bonus scenes or new insights or anything.

Gav: Written by comics stalwart Marv Wolfman this feels very much like a Marvel comic, more specifically in the art it feels like a Marvel Star Wars comic (without giant green rabbit though). Although I did sometimes have trouble with Scotty’s extreme speak at least the flyby of Enterprise was reduced to one panel.  Indeed the pacing of the comic felt better than the movie.  Of course to copy the movie yourself just look at the credits page for five minutes while listening to the movie score.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
IDW, 2009

AAl: Not bad. The advantage of adapting a beloved movie 25 years after the fact, of course, is that you’ve had time to digest the themes and focus on the really important stuff. So this one gets an unfair advantage over the others, which had to settle for rushing out a comic tie-in based on an early version of the script. The art is quite pretty taken as static images, but you don’t really get a sense of movement, panel to panel. Also (and here’s a thing you don’t hear me saying about the original Star Trek much), you lose a lot of the subtle charm and comedic timing (this movie had a lot of deadpan comedy deflating otherwise intense moments) by not seeing and hearing the actors. I know, it amazed me too.

Gav: Due to the fact it wasn’t actually adapted until 2009 it did mean that they could just copy the art from the DVD but I really liked the art nonetheless plus they were able to use scenes from the Special Edition.  The “Khan!” moment in the movie was suitably understated in the comic but  aside from that it pretty much follows the movie exactly and is a competent retelling though I have disappointed Kirk crunching an apple wasn’t in it.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
DC comics, 1984

AAl: Worst of the lot, for my money. The art is a bit of a scritchy, jumbled mess… which was the style of the time. Kruge’s targ is a little more lizardy, so that’s pretty cool, I guess. This, sadly, is what I expect from Trek comics of this era: scenes where the Enterprise might be firing a torpedo at a Klingon Bird of Prey, or they might be shooting cotton candy at it.

Gav: This follows the movies quite strictly, though it does feature a quick line of dialogue which explains what happens to Katras normally.  Art is nothing special at all since it’s the same artist as in the monthly DC book at the time and indeed the same writer, Mike W Barr.  For some reason the Federation Security guy in the bar is white in the comic.  See, it’s not a new thing at DC.  Considering how great the movie is the comic falls far short.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
DC comics, 1986

AAl: Better art, though still not great (Gillian the whale biologist looks nothing like her onscreen self; Kirk seems to have gone for my hair color.) Another more or less literal adaptation. Again, you really lose something in a print adaptation of a movie full of pithy one-liners.  This one is squarely average — it doesn’t add anything to the story of the movie, but it doesn’t take away anything either.

Gav: And so Mike W Barr again and pretty much the same art.  Unfortunately the comedy from the movie isn’t done justice, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a different medium or due to the writing.  It was nice to see Dr Chapel in this as she wasn’t in the movie (oh and Rand too I guess).  The line “I liked him better before he died” from McCoy is in this and not V for some reason, I mean you can’t take good lines away from V!  Lastly, the sound effects are a bit strange, for instance “Reeekt reeekt!” is apparently the sound that humpback whales.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
DC comics, 1989

AAl: The art here honestly looks better than the effects in the movie itself. Also, the writer manages to do his best with the story, and if nothing else, shows a good sense of pacing when it comes to adapting this script. But then, the writer is Peter David, a guy who knows his way around a comic and around Star Trek. So, I mean… you can’t polish a turd, but David did his best. We also get the aborted rock monster climax that the film couldn’t afford, which plays out as a nice homage to the cover of Fantastic Four #1.

Gav: And so we come to Peter David, who thankfully is a better writer and who seems to know Star Trek.  This leads to nice references to Kirk’s actual brother to make a movie line make sense and Spock’s pain seems more plausible in the movie when related to Sybok as opposed to birth.  The art is probably the best of the comics produced in the 20th century.  It was also pretty good to see what might have been with the rock monster they couldn’t afford at the end of the movie.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
DC comics, 1991

AAl: Peter David again, and it shows. The story’s pretty much the same (why tinker with a good thing?) and once again his talent for pacing a 2 hour screenplay in comics form shines through. This is easily the best of DC’s adaptations — a nice companion piece to the movie, and the last remnant of an era when we only had comics and novelizations to tide us over until the eventual VHS release.

Gav: Peter David again and there’s a few lines in the comic (not sure if he wrote them or were in the original script) which aren’t in the movie but really should’ve been like Sulu’s line about betraying country before betraying a friend. The art is nice, about comparable to V though it did seem as if there’s a weird smirk on everyone.  Also the alien killed on the surface on Rura Penthe has been changed to what looks like an Andorian which is cool. Lastly the Undiscovered Country is death and not the future as they would have you believe, probably something to do with the translation into Klingon.

Star Trek Movie Adaptation
IDW, 2009

AAl: I think it really says something about the state of modern comics that the previous movie adaptations were done in a single (albeit expanded) issue, while this one stretches out into six. In fairness, we do get some scenes that were deleted from the final film (such as Spock’s birth at the very beginning and some extra stuff with lil’ Jimmy Kirk being a jerk to his stepdad.) Decent art, with a good sense of scale (I always like when the ship looks tiny in the vastness of space). As I write this, it’s been over a year since I’ve seen this movie (I’m trying to go into it with fresh eyes for the podcast), and this is really just reminding me of how great it was. So surely that’s a point in its favor.

Gav: It does seem strange as with TV and movies seem to be telling quicker and faster cut stories that comics seem to be going the other way and so we have the six part Star Trek.  Other than that I can’t really fault it.  I watched the movie first and it does give you more scenes that you don’t get in the movie which is always good in an adaptation.  The art is suitably nice and they capture a good likeness.  But then when you’ve got a movie as great as the Star Trek reboot it’s gonna be hard to do something to ruin it.  That’s not to say it’s not impossible (I’m looking at you III).

The Motion Picture, III, IV V and VI are available in the Star Trek comics library collection we keep telling you about. IDW’s recent adaptations of Wrath of Khan and the 2009 Star Trek movie should still be available at your local comics retailer.


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