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Review: Starfleet Academy – Adorable Tellarite Edition

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

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Ratio on cover is exact opposite of how much the story revolves around these groups of characters (thankfully so).

Writers – Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist – Derek Charm

Starfleet Academy is a pitch-perfect addition to the Abrams (Kelvin *ugh*) -verse, much in the same way an earlier Marvel series (of the same name) added to the DS9-verse. The five issue story takes place in 2258 and 2261, following the adventures of the main Trek crew just prior to the events of the 2009 movie, and a group of new recruits competing in the Academy’s centennial celebration contest. The two stories are told roughly concurrently, though more weight is given to the 2261 era crew, and the comic is better for it.

The 2258 arc centers mainly on Uhura, with cameos by Spock, Kirk, Chekov and Robocop from Into Darkness (Admiral Marcus I want to say…?). Uhura and Spock’s relationship is a bit bumpy (all Spock’s fault BTW) and Uhura decides to turn her feelings toward investigating a faint signal she picked up from a lost ship, which turns out to have been lost more than 100 years ago. After she discovers that information about the ship and transmission is classified she enlists the help of first Chekov and then Pine-Kirk to break into the Starfleet Archives for more information. She’s caught, chewed out, and Spock saves the day (and their relationship), but we don’t really know what happened to the lost ship.

The problem with comics about the main crew (especially prequels) is we know where they will end up. The stakes are lower. This was one of the reasons the original Marvel Starfleet Academy was so groundbreaking. Aside from Nog, all of these characters were original to the comic and anything could happen to them (including being killed off in the 5th issue)…

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And this is before the Knightfall-esque cover where a cadet’s back is broken by a Jem Hadar.

The 2261 story centers around T’Laan, a Vulcan cadet struggling with whether to remain in the Academy, or rejoin the rest of her people in establishing a new Vulcan colony. She’s convinced to stay through the Academy’s 100 year celebration competition by the most adorable Tellarite instructor in the history of the series in return for him expediting her withdrawal from the Academy should she still decide to leave after the contest.

Isn't he the cutest thing?

Isn’t he the cutest thing?

Lets take a minute to admire Derek Charm’s artwork which is dare I say … Charm-ing.

For those of you still left after the horrendous pun, Derek Charm does manage to inject a lighter tone to this story without taking away from some of the real conflict going on with T’Laan. This a brighter and more cartoonish interpretation of these characters, but never in a way that feels like a cartoon. It’ll probably be more engaging to a younger audience, but still with a lot to offer older readers like me. The ship design work melds well with some of Beyond’s new effects we see from the trailer.

T’Laan’s teammates are the usual mix, a haughty Andorian, a girl who built her own exo-rig, a brainy human, and a Monchezkin who is only just now learning to use spoken communication.

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This character is played largely for humor, sometimes more effectively than others. We’ve seen literal characters like this before (one of the reasons I love Anya from Buffy), but this plays a little differently. Overall, he’s a nice one to throw into the mix of all these misfit cadets.

LuciaWon

The comic has a good mix of ups and downs for our little crew, playing a lot better than some of the challenges Wesley faced in his Academy testing episodes in Season 1 of TNG. It ties the two storylines together in the final issue quite well and leaves things open for us to spend more time with these characters again.

My only quibble is I don’t think we really needed the main crew storyline. All of the discovery and risk parts of the storyline could have been taken on by T’Laan and her group, who could have been plausibly kicked out of the Academy unlike Uhura. The Spock/Uhura relationship stuff doesn’t add much to their story that we didn’t already get from the 2009 movie. And Uhura doesn’t get to solve the mystery and has to wait till this new group comes along, so it’s not particularly satisfying for her either.

But overall this is a fun tale, which is one of the best characteristics of the new movies. It integrates more serious events like the destruction of Vulcan without being morbid. Definitely a good comic to read in advance of seeing the movie. Hope there are more tales to be told with T’Laan (and the lovable Tellarite).

(5 stars | Some of IDW’s best Trek work with the new universe)

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Your Essential Star Trek Beyond Comics Checklist

Star Trek Beyond comes out later this week, and all this week on the blog I will be celebrating my life-long love of Star Trek (as if I really needed the excuse).

Did you know that Star Trek comics are canon? To be specific, we’re talking about the Star Trek Ongoing and Countdown related series which are supervised by Roberto Orci. Gone are the days of having to ret-con a recovered Spock off his own ship back to mind-melded confusion (re: the effect of Star Trek III and IV on DC’s Star Trek Volume 1). We even occasionally get a mention in the new movies of events in the comics. Did you hear that throwaway line about “The Mudd Incident” in Into Darkness? That was for the comics nerds. All one of us.

Who knows if any of this stuff is going to affect Beyond. Probably not, but here are some comics that should at least get you in the mood for the new movie.

The Legacy of Spock (Star Trek Ongoing Issues 55-58): This is a fitting elegy to Leonard Nimoy, bridging the gap between the end of the 2009 Star Trek movie and the establishment of the new Vulcan colony. Turns out the Vulcans want to colonize Seti Alpha V, which prime Spock knows is a bad idea because it’s going to become a hellish wasteland when Seti Alpha VI explodes (see TWOK). But the Vulcans aren’t too eager to listen to Spock as there are more than a few who blame him for failing to stop Nero and the destruction of their home. Spock becomes an exile and is forced to rely on unlikely allies to save the last of his people from themselves, and from two remaining members of Nero’s crew who get their hands on the last few drops of red matter. There are some great cameos from characters from both TOS and TNG and the last few pages of 58 might even bring a tear to your eye. (The latest issue, 59, has new Quinto Spock waking up in Nichelle Nichols Uhura’s bed. Scandal.)

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Star Trek Manifest Destiny: A limited series similar to the two countdown series that preceded the prior two movies. The events of this will probably have little affect on the plot, but the tone appears similar with a vicious enemy taking over the ship. You can read my review from a few weeks ago here. Read 53-54 on Ongoing as well to get a lead-up story to the Kai character.

Star Trek Starfleet Academy: I’ll probably review this later this week, but this series bridges two timelines, the early academy days of Uhura, Spock, and Kirk and a crew of new recruits competing in the academy’s 100 year celebration a few years later. In the past Uhura stumbles across a transmission from a lost NX class ship and risks her academy career to find out the truth about a possible mutiny. In the present a Vulcan student is torn between her desire to join the rest of her people to preserve her race, and her wish to continue a career in Starfleet. She’s teamed up with a diverse set of students, including a race that is just learning verbal communication which leads to some great comedy. The new team stumbles upon Uhura’s research and possibly even the lost ship. The series explores the early ups and downs of the Spock/Uhura relationship, and does a nice job of integrating NX ships and Star Trek: Enterprise into the Ongoing series (both these elements look to be explored in Beyond as well).

Star Trek/Green Lantern – The Spectrum War: Hear me out on this one. Even though the reviews of Beyond are turning out to be favorable, it’s probably wise to not let your expectations get too high. If the movie is only so-so, at least you’ll be able to say it was better than this sin against nature. Sadly at some point I still need to review this for NetGalley.

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Star Trek Vol 9: The Q Gambit: Another run I’ve previously reviewed. The high-water mark of the whole Ongoing series. Much better than their frankly disappointing attempts at Mirror-Mirror. Check out my review here.

If you have time for only one, read Starfleet Academy. It’s tonally the most fun, and serves as a nice bridge between all parts of the current new Trek Trilogy.

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Review: Star Trek – Manifest Destiny

Star Trek: Manifest Destiny

Manifest_Destiny_issue_1

Writers – Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist – Angel Hernandez

Prior to the release of each of the new Trek films IDW has released a four-issue “Countdown” series. The first Star Trek: Countdown fleshed out the character of Nero and tied the universes of old Star Trek canon with the Abrams-verse*. Countdown to Darkness, perhaps in part because it couldn’t reveal anything about Khan, is a weaker tale of Robert April still implausibly being able to use his old command codes to take over the Enterprise. Its only tie to the movie is Mudd’s ship from “The Mudd Incident” i.e. Countdown to Darkness. While Manifest Destiny isn’t explicitly a countdown series, it’s doing some of the same work of setting the tone for the new movie.

It seems a little odd that this was split off as its own tale, as what we’re really getting is another continuing adventure of the Pine-Kirk crew following Issue #54 of the Ongoing series. While Manifest Destiny was running, Issues #55-58 of Ongoing had its own mini-series, Legacy of Spock, following the events of Prime Spock between 2009 Trek and Into Darkness (incidentally this is the tale the earlier Spock: Reflections wishes it could have been). It would have made more sense to me to have Manifest Destiny as part of Ongoing, and to split off the Spock tale separately, but such are the vagaries of the comics industry.

As for the plot of Manifest Destiny it follows a light-skinned Klingon commander named Sho’Tokh (not the albino from “Blood Oath“, I checked) who is determined to seek glory at any cost, especially the cost of his own men. After luring the Enterprise in with a fake distress call, he begins an all out assault on the ship including a battle directly on the hull to gain entry (always cool in my book). The majority of the tale is spent with Kirk and crew fighting the Klingons from within the Enterprise, while McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu are captured by the Klingon crew. Turns out the Klingons aren’t too happy with their commander’s tactics, with letting them be killed and all, and want the Enterprise crew to help them defeat Sho’Tokh before he gets them all killed.

IDW’s Trek tales have never had problems with the visuals. We get good likenesses of the whole crew, great Klingon ship designs that are a blend of new movie sensibilities and classic design, and the Enterprise looks as good or better than it does on screen. The fight scene on the hull of the ship is too closely drawn to feel like we’re out in space, and I don’t think the Bat’leth needed a redesign, but that’s a taste thing. I’ve never been a fan of the Klingons from Into Darkness, but I do get that they’re trying to blend what we saw in Next Gen with TOS sensibilities.

The story is serviceable, and sets up a tale of Kirk’s ship being overwhelmed by a superior and determined force which we’ll probably be seeing in Beyond as well. There’s a through-line of McCoy being disgusted with some old attitudes, then discovering that some Klingons aren’t just interested in killing, but this isn’t consistently handled. We do see McCoy and Uhura being capable in a fight which is always good.

The attack itself is brutal, tearing apart the ship and crew. We lose a character whose tale we were just served in #53-54 of Ongoing and Klingons are at their most animistic and brutal. We forget sometimes with the TNG and DS9 Klingons that they are a warrior race who have a killer nature. Not so here. In some ways this tale makes me wish that Klingons would have been a bigger threat in the movies than they actually are. Sho’Tokh is a little one-note, a little expository at weird moments, and undone largely by cowardice, but other Klingons are drawn with a sense of honor. Kudos to the person who included all the Klingon swearing (there were a few really deep cuts). Also we do see enough of Klingon medicine to know we would rather be treated at a bus-station.

This story is action-packed if not very heady. It’s better than Countdown to Darkness, but I doubt it will have much tie with the movie. There are a few character moments that won’t make sense to you if you haven’t been keeping up with Ongoing, but the tale is largely stand-alone. My favorite part of the whole series are the subscriber covers which I think is a neat idea even if some of you might consider them sacrilege:

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There’s also a Klingon variant which is basically just another way to get you to spend money unless you’re really a geek. Overall the series is worth a look as part of getting yourself in the mood for the new movie.

(3.5 Stars | 4 for the NetGalley rating. Better than some of the Countdown series and a higher mark than a lot of Ongoing, but still not IDW’s best)

*I am aware of the term Kelvin-verse and refuse to use it.

** Note: I received issue 1 from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Since I’m a collector, I now have all 4 and this review covers the whole series.

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Ben’s guide to too much Star Trek Comics goodness

HumbleStarTrekBundle

IDW and Humble Bundle have teamed up to deliver 50 Star Trek Trade Paperbacks for the 50th anniversary. Whether you’re a casual fan, or an avid collector like me, there’s a little something for everyone. Humble Bundle works on tiered payment system, some comics for $1, some for $8, some for $15, and even greater bonuses for $25. It can be a little difficult with a bundle this size to really know what’s worth your hard-earned money. That’s where my years of collecting Star Trek comics are here to help.

Should I spend $1?

The Good

Both the TNG collections here are pretty good stories. Ghosts is a classic TNG tale with a little of the supernatural thrown-in. Hive shows a world in which the Borg are finally victorious, and details a rebellion led by Locutus to change the past using post-Voyager 7 of 9. Countdown serves as a nice bridge between the old and the new, filling in some of the background before the first Abrahms Star Trek movie (and firmly establishing Data’s resurrection after Nemesis). It also sets up Nero as a relate-able and complex villain, more so even than the movie.

The 3 Classics volumes are just that, some of the best work that came out of the DC Wildstorm era of Star Trek comics. I covered one of the stories in the second collection a few weeks ago. The three volumes are a mix of Voyager and TNG tales. Voyager’s Avalon Rising in Volume 3 is an unexpected treat. The Gorn story isn’t my favorite, but the artwork is beautiful.

The Bad

Ever wonder what the first comics page of Star Trek looked like? Probably not what you’d expect:

PlanetOfNoReturn

The Gold Key collections are sometimes beautifully drawn, but lack an understanding of Star Trek technology, how the characters act, or Starfleet values. Issue 1 ends with a mass genocide of an entire planet encouraged by Spock. These comics do sometimes fall into “so bad it’s good” but not often.

DS9 Fools Gold isn’t much better. It’s set between seasons 3 and 4 of the show, but lacks any tie-in to the larger mythology of the show. Sisko (and many others) look comically angry at many points, and the story meanders and retreads to a bland conclusion. Nicely drawn, but little there.

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 1 – 3 are largely retreads of classic TOS episodes with the new cast. Often it’s a direct retelling of the episode with maybe one minor detail changed. Outcomes are occasionally different, but few of these tales rise above the source material. And the two issue per story format feels at times too short and too long.

The Meh

The Movie Adaption is okay. The artwork is typical of the brothers Tipton of whom I’m not a big fan. The 6 issue format gives the story room to breathe, but nothing is really added.

Countdown to Darkness doesn’t live up to the previous Countdown series. It’s a depiction of the Mudd incident (which would be more appropriately named the April incident, but whatever), which basically explains how the crew got that one weird ship the flew during Into Darkness. Not bad, but not great.

Bottom-line: Spend the $1 if you like trek. There’s definitely something for you at this level (the Classics if nothing else). And it can be fun to make fun of just how bad the Gold Key stuff is.

Should I spend $8?

The Good

The Classics series continue with the first TNG comics series and the finale arc of the first DC TOS series. The TNG series is a mixed bag, but does feature the only Christmas Star Trek episode I’ve ever read. It also portrays a human Q long before the series did. The “Who Killed Captain Kirk?” story is Peter David at his prime. It’s funny, well-drawn, there’s a wedding, a trip through hell, what more could you want?

The Archives line is similar to Classics, but covers more of the DC run. I’ve written about volumes 1+2 before (as part of my hidden Amazon Star Trek Comic gems). The quality in the Humble Bundle coloring is better than the Amazon transfer. The 3rd collection is two Gary Seven stories, the excellent Peacemaker, and the so-so Convergence arc (in case you wanted to know more about the aliens from TNG: Time’s Arrow).

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 4-6 tell more original and character-driven stories. We get individual stories on Uhura, Chekov + Sulu, Bones and, Scotty that provide some background on how these characters came to Starfleet. We get a neat tale from a redshirt’s perspective (loosely based on The Apple). We learn more about Keenser, Scotty’s littlest assistant. More personal and less epic, and much better than the first three volumes.

The Bad

Nero is terrible. It completely undoes the good work by Countdown. It has V’Ger, and Nero stuck in Rura Penthe for 20 years. Enough said.

The Meh

New Visions is a great idea. They’re photo-novel episodes of Star Trek, made with a combination of CG sets, and stills from the original series. Some of the stories are quite inventive, but the art is lacking. And given Byrne’s excellent artwork on other Star Trek tales, I always find myself wanting him to have drawn these rather than photoshop.

The Gold Key stories get better. The Enterprise Mutiny is actually a pretty good tale.

Spock Reflections goes back over significant moments in Spock’s life, as he makes the decision to go to Romulus. It’s another brothers Tipton tale, and kind of melancholy, but better than some of their other work.

Bottom-line: IDW steps up its game on Ongoing, there’s a ton of the best of DC here, and New Visions is entertaining if not perfect. Plus this is the level where you’ll probably be getting New Visions Vol. 2, Ongoing 7-9 (which includes a fabulous Q arc) and Doctor Who crossover vol. 1. $8 is probably a good investment.

Should I spend $15?

The Good

The two Year Four volumes are great, particularly The Enterprise Experiment which features the return of the female Romulan from The Enterprise Incident and is written by DC Fontana. Assignment Earth tells lost tales of Gary Seven by John Byrne at the top of his game.

The Bad

I’ve written before about Harlan Ellison needing an editor. This version of City on the Edge of Forever is definitely not better than the original. Artfully done, yes, but badly structured.

The WTF?

So yeah, crossovers. Star Trek with Doctor Who, Green Lantern, Legion of Super Heroes, and Planet of the Apes.

The Doctor Who cross isn’t as good as you’d think. They make Picard kind of petulant, and frankly the Doctor having to convince Picard of the right thing to do rings wrong for me. There’s a nice bit with Doctor 4 and the TOS crew, and the artwork is great but otherwise this is long and kind of less then I thought it would be.

The Green Lantern arc is … weird. Want to see which crew-members get which rings? Want to see General Chang from Star Trek VI? Then this is the book for you… I guess?

Haven’t read Legion of Super-Heroes, but the cover art is cool.

Planet of the Apes is an equally weird premise, but think of this. What would it be like if Shatner and Heston acted in a scene together? That might make this worth-while.

New Visions Vol. 3 is really okay, but we do see TOS encounter the Borg which I think is almost as stupid as when Enterprise did it. And is that Scott Adsit from 30 Rock in the last story? Yes it is.

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Bottom-line: $15 dollars is a lot of money. The Ongoing volumes are good, but not as good as 4-9. Year Four is great, but these cross-overs are kinda painful. Why IDW doesn’t cross Star Trek with another property it owns like Ghostbusters, TMNT, Back to the Future, or Galaxy Quest I’ll never know. There are still gems here, but maybe only for hard-core fans. And if you like Green Lantern? Hey man, you do you.

Should I spend $25?

Ask your mom.

Seriously, I’m not sure if this story will appear later in a less expensive cheaper form. If you’re willing to spend $15, then it’s only another $10 to get this one-of-a-kind artifact, but I think most of you will be just happy with $8. Or going outside if you’re weird like that.

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Review: Galaxy Quest – The Journey Continues

I’m back from vacation and that means I read a lot of comic books. Here’s a review of one of them.

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues

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Writer – Erik Burnham, Artists – Nacho Arranz, Roger Robinson

I was pretty excited when I heard this series was coming out, and doubly so when it was available on NetGalley. Galaxy Quest is one my favorite camp movies and we just recently watched it after the passing of Alan Rickman (probably not the most fitting tribute but to each his own). So perhaps my disappointment with this comic series is due to high expectations, but I’ll leave that for you to judge.

The comic series picks up several years after the events of the movie. The cast is still together and are doing the Con circuit in anticipation of the third season of the new show. The security guy is contemplating a spin off series, a move that is annoying some of the main cast, blah blah TV machinations.

The main story involves the consequences of using the Omega 13 in the movie. An alien race that managed to lead a successful revolt against a technocratic oppressive government, fails when the timeline is reset and the government is able to repel the rebellion. Members of the rebellion enlist the Galaxy Quest crew (plus the Apple commercial kid) to take down a super-weapon and correct the mistake they caused. I think this was an interesting set up premise, that then failed in execution.

This comic had several execution problems starting with a Deus Ex Machina ending. Apparently humans are immune to the death ray thingy for “reasons” and so are able to destroy it without a hitch (spoiler?). The B-plot of aliens posing as the main crew at the cons is underdeveloped and could have been a real source of humor which the comic largely lacked. Also, the lack of likeness rights made it difficult to tell characters apart (particularly when not in their makeup). And Burnham’s writing of Rickman in particular reduced that character to griping the entire time. Perhaps in the hands of Rickman the lines would have come across better, but he didn’t seem quite as pouty in the movie, at least to me.

The setup at the end for “continuing adventures” borrows the plotline from the beginning of the four issue arc, and seems like a rushed attempt to make this a continuing series, which I doubt it will be. BTW, the transporter body switching gag was not as funny as they’d hoped it was. Futurama’s return did a similar episode to much better effect (particularly Scruffy’s appearance at the end). The comic tried to do some callbacks (fan-service) to the movie, but these came across just as references and not as actual humor.

IDW’s doing a run of “nostalgia comics” from Ghostbusters, to Back to the Future, and Galaxy Quest, to varying effect. Of those three, I’d say this was the worst of the lot.

(2.5 Stars | I’ll give it a three on NetGalley, but you’re better off just re-watching the movie)

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Friday Review: John Byrne Loves Trek More Than I Do

For today’s review I’ll be talking about just one title, John Byrne’s second volume of photo-novel style Star Trek comics.

Star Trek: New Visions Volume 2

Writer and Artist – John Byrne

cover63641-mediumJohn Byrne has done a lot of great work with IDW and Star Trek lately. He concluded his own cult series Next Men, re-imagined early works with Doomsday.1, and has filled in oft forgotten corners of the Star Trek universe.

Byrne’s Star Trek work to date includes a Romulan saga that begins with a background story behind the classic TOS episode “The Balance of Terror” (one of my personal favorites), and continues into a tale of trust, betrayal, assassination and fragile alliances.

Did you know “Assignment:Earth” (TOS second season finale) was a back-door pilot for a series that never was? John Byrne did, and imagined his own episodes of that never aired television show in a five issue mini-series.

Ever wonder how a woman who bears a remarkable resemblance to Christine Chapel was first officer on Pike’s Enterprise? John Byrne tells her entire back-story in Star Trek: Crew taking us from the Enterprise’s construction to Pike’s early missions.

And were you wondering what McCoy was doing before The Motion Picture? He was flying around the galaxy saving worlds and playing match-maker to a surly Andorian (if Byrne is to be believed).

Now Byrne is filling in another forgotten corner of the Trek universe, the photo-novel. Only 12 were produced (+1 for the movie), each telling a classic Trek episode in comic-bookish form with photos from the original show. At the time they were a great way to see episodes that you couldn’t see on TV, or watch on video. And then VHS came along and kind of killed the whole thing.

Byrne’s new tales take photos from the original series and other sources to tell original stories. The writing here is classic Byrne, an adventure involving the mysterious Number One and a missing crew, a follow-up to “The Doomsday Machine” (another favorite of mine) and a humor-filled Harry Mudd tale.

I really wish John Byrne had illustrated these tales instead of using photos.

The problem is the CG backgrounds. A lot of the new sets and structures seem to be done with mid 90’s CG trying to look like mid 60’s set design. The effect is rather like making paper dolls of Kirk and company and parading them in front of a backdrop. Some of the visuals (particularly the over-sized Alien in the Doomsday tale) come off comically bad with photos, but I bet they would have worked as Byrne illustrated stories.

The best tale is the Mudd one. Byrne makes use of a few sets that look more like the painted backdrops used on planets and a lot of the sets are Enterprise interior shots that can use the original work. An enemy from Kirk’s past tricks Harry Mudd into assuming Kirk’s form so that he can impersonate Kirk and help this enemy toward a rotten aim. The last frame with Mudd’s restored mustache is worth the price of admission. The Doomsday tale is a little disappointing (feels like a rehash of the episode without the personal drama), and the Number One story is a little confusing.

The next issue of this series doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. Byrne is going to somehow work the Borg into the TOS universe. Maybe it’s time to be moving on.

(3 Stars | I wish this was better, and drawn by Byrne)

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