“Photomontage” is a word that brings to mind primary school. It’s one of those that you seem to only hear in school along with “diorama” and “homework diary”. So it is with great trepidation that I picked up the just-released Star Trek: New Visions Omnibus from IDW, which claims to be an “ongoing comic/photomontage series”.
The cover of the omnibus did nothing to ease my mind. It’s made up of a bunch of Star Trek TOS (The Original Series) stills made to look like hastily glued together magazine cut-outs. Then there’s the first page, which places the writer’s head on various Star Trek characters’ bodies in iconic scenes. “Here I am borrowing George Takei’s body” says the author, thrusting a fencing sabre towards the reader. Oh boy…
Well, the idea isn’t as bad as it sounds. Basically New Visions aims to use old TOS episodes to construct new TOS episodes using the same cast. I guess it’s better than using Barbie dolls. (No, I never did that, why are you looking at me that way?).
The first issue – “Strange New Worlds” – takes the crew back to Delta Vega. If you don’t know what Delta Vega is then don’t worry, there’s a 5-page summary of that episode… I guess the comic just relies on you knowing what happened previously? For your reference: it’s the planet from the first episode. The one with the helmsman who becomes psionically mutated, kidnaps the blonde psychologist and develops a god complex that then gets him killed (but not before Kirk has had a chance to lose half his shirt).
Kirk’s guilt over letting his friend die takes up another good few pages and then he’s transported back in time. At first I thought this was so they might conveniently make use of unaltered episode frames, but the frames must have come from a later episode as Kirk is in the wrong uniform. Funnily no one on the Enterprise seems to notice. It becomes clearer that the frames were indeed altered when we encounter what I fondly call the Worst Photoshop Attempt Ever as Kirk has to explore a damaged area of the ship.
For those who enjoy a good laugh, I won’t spoil anything further.
The second issue – “The mirror, cracked” – reads a bit like a fanfic. The character dialogue runs as expected – Spock fails to understand some Earth saying, McCoy is concerned about things, Kirk is clever and heroic – but it seems rather forced and fails to flow like natural conversation. The panels are laid out to suit the story, not for ease of reading. Again, the launchpad for the story is a specific TOS episode, “Mirror, mirror” and your enjoyment of the comic relies on your having seen that episode. That said, the adventure is a vast improvement on the first. It’s filled with intrigue and this time the Photoshop-foo isn’t terrible either, but the jarring flow makes it difficult to get into.
The third issue is an original story called “Time’s Echo” that’s a definite improvement on the first two. While it’s slow to get going, the concept is interesting. Unfortunately due to the original nature of the story, the setting and other characters are created from scratch… and seemingly in MS Paint. It takes a bit more imagination to understand than the previous two stories.
As a bonus, a story called “Sweet Sorrow” is included with this issue, focusing on Janice Rand. While the idea of a story focusing on Rand is nice, again it comes across as completely amateurish. I think what they were going for was explaining the character of Rand leaving the show – if I recall the real reason was that the actress developed an eating disorder. Any emotional nuance is lost with cheesy, clichéd dialogue. Rand/Kirk is an opportunity for a writer’s imagination to run rampant (just look at what Peter David did with Riker/Troi in Imzadi) but this particular short story feels painful to read – and not at all in the emphasizing-with-the-characters way.
Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh on New Visions. One can see that a hell of a lot of work went in to it. Unfortunately I think particular brilliance is what’s needed to make a format like this work. Comics exist to stretch what’s possible. With nearly zero budget you can achieve what would cost millions to do on screen. When you’re taking what’s already happened on screen and adapting it into a graphic novel your stories either need to be amazing or hilarious. This, in my opinion, is neither.
No doubt New Visions will find its niche, but I’ll stick to more traditional graphic novels for now.