Other than his prolific comic legacy and his fanatical devotion to Star Trek, I think I have to respect most John Byrne’s carefully maintained standards of practice on display in Star Trek: New Visions #15.
What makes this a challenging practice is the difficulty factor that creating photo-montages poses to comic storytelling. It’s not an easier art form – it’s actually quite the opposite. But whatever the style, it’s John Byrne’s storytelling within a franchise that is very important to me, to Byrne, and its legions of fans. What’s not to respect?
In this fast-paced digital information age, people have very quickly grown accustomed to instant gratification, and we need a reminder that things weren’t always moving quite so fast. With the photo-montage techniques Byrne employs, he manages to communicate an appreciation for the quality of the timeless charm of the Original Series with techniques of modern times.
Titled “Traveler,” it’s clear that this is a direct homage to the classic Doctor Who series of the British 1960’s. The crew of the Enterprise encounters a craft that does not resemble a traditional spaceship; McCoy’s discarding and discrediting attitude is fairly clear when he states that the thing “looks like a child’s toy.” It is, of course, a completely unique image that Byrne has crafted for the purposes of this story.
After all, while Byrne repurposes and adapts already existing images from the Original Series for his stories, there are times when he has to use image editing software to make his own — and that’s a skill that gets underrated and when readers are focused on revisiting the familiar characters they know and love.
This story is a true roller-coaster of discerning the Traveler’s intentions. I have to say, as a classic Doctor Who watcher from the memorable Tom Baker days, I found the pace of the story was a perfect match for the tempo of a flustered Time Lord hastily leaping from one crisis to the next. I felt very much on the edge while watching Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew vacillate between trusting the Traveler implicitly, or opposing his goals. What is he hiding from the Enterprise?
The techno-organic Q’al are a clear nod of the hat to the villainous Daleks. Though robotic in form, their single-minded emotional responses were very similar and with a limited ability to communicate, they also contribute to the confusion and hectic pace that the Enterprise crew find themselves wrapped up in. It’s very much like making Kirk and Spock share the roles of the “Doctor’s Assistant”, and who consistently found themselves completely puzzled by the Doctor’s plans as well. It was a very clever piece of writing to extend that dynamic to the entire crew.
In fact, the background scenery definitely physically channels Dalek design as well. The widened bases of the energy poles in the Traveler’s vessel are the same shape as the Dalek lower halves, and the cylindrical tops look like Dalek sensor eyes. We are definitely given suggestive hints that the Q’al are as deadly as the dangerous Daleks. Of course, when we eventually see the size of the Q’al mothership in comparison to the Enterprise, they are definitely an intimidating threat worthy of the Daleks.
Other selective suggestive tactics include the Traveler’s impish nature. He lurks around corridors, smiles broadly and even japes with the crew. His dialogue is lofty, elevated and you can even hear the English accent in his words as he describes the crew as “doughty” or his use of the dramatic turn of phrase – “You wound me, sir!” His colourful garb is also something like Colin Baker (aka the Sixth Doctor) would wear. Byrne carefully places these hints in strategic places which reinforces this notion in the story extremely well. Even the mention of being “suckered by his charm” has overtones of almost every Time Lord.
I have to say that I think Byrne is having a bit of fun with the Traveler. As a displaced Brit, I would speculate that he is clearly poking honest and respectful fun at the BBC series. As a British émigré myself, that’s an authentic and real spirit that I can appreciate.
But what I also appreciate is the image of the performer uses for the Traveler, well known in local Connecticut theatre circles, actor Richard Weidlich. Byrne is extending that fun by including someone from his own personal circle of acquaintances and bringing in a clearly talented, professional actor to provide facial expressions and positioning. This is a significant expression of the care and thought that goes into Byrne’s artform.
The images seemed a little fuzzy at times, but with the variety of poses Byrne needs for the story, the images have to be modified heavily in order to fit into the panel. They probably have to be re-sized, reversed or shaded in order to change the ambient lighting of the original image to match the scene. Remember, Byrne isn’t drawing these images from scratch; he has to work with what he can find and the original pictures he uses for backdrops and new characters are probably also painstakingly arranged within a tight list of carefully chosen criteria but represent a small percentage of the work he has to do.
Still, if it’s detailed criticism that’s needed to appreciate this book, look at the carefully chosen facial expressions on the characters. When Kirk needs to look quizzical in asking about sending over a boarding party to the Traveler’s vessel, Byrne has an image of Kirk doing exactly that. I especially love McCoy’s expression on page when he asks if they “must poke our noses into every piece of space junk that crosses our path?” It’s a perfect McCoy face and I can only imagine how long it too for Byrne to locate that particular detail.
There are also the captivating first pages of “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot…” to enjoy after reading “Traveler.” This is a teaser of a story that revolves around Yeoman Janice Rand and Lt. Uhura. Byrne tantalizes us with some possible insight into her background with her desire to return back to the Enterprise. He definitely has evoked my curiosity with this story and I’m looking forward to reading it.
It’s Star Trek and it’s John Byrne’s storytelling; both of these deserve a reader’s respect. Byrne treats this franchise with a high standard of care and reverence. His stories allow the reader to experience the same tempo as watching the original series and “Traveler” is no exception.
This is one of my favourite comics that I look forward to reading slowly, if only to capture that same feeling of watching an episode of the Original Series for the very first time.