I’ve always wanted to see more of Captain Kirk’s family than just the brief glimpse of Sam Kirk’s corpse in the TOS episode “Operation: Annihilate” – and I’ve finally gotten my wish in New Visions #14.
The real joy of John Byrne’s photo-realization of new adventures of the TOS milieu is that he gets to take us back to the possibilities that we never thought could happen. After all, he has the entire time surrounding the three seasons to play with in his work. The stories are endless, only limited to what he can imagine.
These are veritable episodes – not issues. Byrne has crafted each story to resemble an episode from the original series. The introduction completely mirrors the same few pre-credit moments when the story’s objective is revealed and you can almost hear the theme music preparing you for another adventure in Federation space.
In this episode, one of the engineering staff at Starbase 11 is dead and George Samuel Kirk is at the scene, confessing to be the murderer. The Enterprise is rerouted to rendezvous and bring Kirk – the Elder – back to Earth to stand trial for his crime. Of course, when a Klingon battlecruiser, commanded by none other than Commander Koloth, is in the neighbourhood, then there might be more to Sam Kirk’s story than meets the eye.
What I have a problem with is how does Byrne manage to source the general type of photos he needs to work with? Even though he isn’t drawing this book, the photo-manipulation alone must take a tremendous amount of time; more so, I’d wager just that to draw it. For instance, Sam Kirk is really just William Shatner’s face and body in a different outfit and a heavier hairstyle and beard. Though it’s ingenious in its simplicity, that’s just one of the many details that Byrne edits to make the pictures for this story work.
Other minor examples are Spock’s calculating device, the addition of an unidentified security officer, the interior of the Klingon battlecruiser and the repurposing of William Campbell’s likeness from episodes of “The Squire of Gothos” as well as “The Trouble with Tribbles.” After all, even though Campbell originally played Koloth, there couldn’t have been enough Koloth images for Byrne to use; he had to take them from Campbell’s Trelane character as well, though some image editing in terms of facial hair and costume would have been employed.
I’ve read – and heard – criticism of Byrne’s work on this book take the form of questioning why he isn’t drawing the book. There are a number of responses to this. First, while Byrne is more than a capable artist, this is another field of visual representation that he is challenging himself to employ. An artist is always looking for new mediums of expression and Byrne has chosen this one tell these stories. Even though I am a faithful devotee to his artwork, I’m not going to criticise an artist for exploring new ways of expression – especially not John Byrne.
Secondly, there is Byrne’s own modest discomfort of wrestling with likenesses. Again, I’m not going to disagree with an artist of his status, even though I’ve always been impressed with his work. I felt his rendering of Majel Barret Roddenberry as Number One from the original pilot episode was spot on and Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor also serves to challenge his own opinion of his work. Still, who am I to argue with Byrne’s own self-judgment?
Finally, there’s also the notion that Byrne gets to use the original images of the cast and pay homage to their performances in bringing them to life once more. While we may have lost Nimoy, Kelley and Doohan, in these pages they live again. We also get to see Shatner, Takei, Nichols and Koenig in the prime of their lives, recreating the roles that made them famous. Byrne has gifted them with a limited form of immortality. Only a true fan would be able to present such a gift.
Though I would love to see Byrne’s penciling again, one has to respect the artistic integrity that goes into the construction of this book. It’s a rare thing to see your heroes in their original roles as they were in their youth and this immediately brings me back to the days of my youth, watching Star Trek in its syndicated time, insisting that my mother hold supper for another ten minutes while I watch Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley polish off the last witticism that concludes yet another adventure in space.
Byrne is honing his storytelling talents as opposed to his skill at visual recreations. He shows us his intimate knowledge of the franchise by referring to the Organian Peace Treaty and even goes as far as to modify that major TOS story development. He also demonstrates his knowledge of the characters by resting the story on the relationship between the Kirk brothers. There was a falling-out between the two that wasn’t able to be properly explored in the original series and wasn’t able to before Sam’s death on the Deneva Colony. Byrne hints at this difficulty, adding not only a note of authenticity but a tantalizing view of their relationship, which is something that every Star Trek fan would be eager to see more of.
Still, Byrne could go one step more. Will there be another appearance of Sam Kirk? Jim Kirk’s loneliness is an identifying hallmark of his character. He is isolated by the weight of his command, but the absence of family and love in his life is a tragic feature that Byrne is highlighting by simply hinting at the estrangement of the two brothers. There probably won’t be another appearance of Sam Kirk after this issue as that would de-emphasize Captain Kirk’s character at the expense of his fans’ desire of a happy ending for him.
We can’t see more of Kirk’s family, even though we may want to out of a sense of seeing him happy. James Kirk isn’t supposed to be a happy man. He is a good and brave man; a fine commander who cares for the welfare of his ship and crew, and will lay his life on the line for his family and his values.
But he is not a man who will find happiness in the comfort of family life and Byrne knows this.
The only way to present this is by capturing the photo-images of Captain Kirk and by creating images of what Sam would look like in order to tell this story. Byrne’s strengths in this book are his love of the fandom and his epic storytelling talent, which is only limited by his imagination in manipulating the stock images at his disposal; and if he can repurpose them to tell more stories of the Original Series, well, then that’s just fine by me.
…after all, I never thought I’d actually see more Original Series episodes again. Thanks, John Byrne.