How do I define joy?
Well, there is a soothing wave of nostalgia that engulfs me whenever I turn a page in this book, and New Visions #18 — What Pain it is to Drown already gushes a sense of a return to my living room in the 1970’s where I would most excitedly watch an episode of my favourite sci-fi show for the 29th time. What a glorious time for television that was.
But there’s also the joy of anticipation in discovering what new twists and details legendary comics creator, John Byrne, has in store for us in this comic; another medium that has brought me a great deal of happiness.
I look forward to reading this book simply because I think that there’s a great deal of joy in enjoying a well-assembled story about a franchise that has given me a great deal of entertainment in the last fifty years.
Fifty-one years, actually… that’s a lot of joy.
The story in this particular issue is about an insane alien that employs a specially treated type of water that can survive space and is used as a ravaging weapon that literally drowns planets in a twisted scientific experiment in search of redemption. I ask myself, how does Byrne come up with these ideas?
It’s a grandiose and romantic premise that not only fits the original concept of Trek, but also the classic perception of science fiction that was present in literature of the time. Modern science fiction concerns itself with plausibility and a deeply-rooted connection to the conceivable science of the time.
Back in the sixties, there was more of an emphasis on the story recipient’s willing suspension of disbelief. You accepted a story and didn’t worry too much about the science because where was the fun in that?
Star Trek threw caution to the wind when it came to matters of science and technology and so does Byrne. It explained, but in a pseudo-technical way that tied into all sorts of different scientific theories that were newly proposed. Transporters were a deus ex machina that were acceptable because of the theory of converting matter to energy and channeling that energy into receivers.
Was it detailed? No, but did we care? No, it was just a really cool way of getting off the ship and it was excitedly received with open arms. Get on with the story was the maxim, and we did.
Future iterations of Star Trek got increasingly serious with theoretical science and more was added that was clearly more advanced than the 1960’s progenitor, but also tackled issues of ethics, history and culture that were also real and socially challenging to their respective decades. That is the stuff of real story-telling and Byrne does not disappoint with his tale of far-fetched sci-fi and the guilt of a lone survivor of a long-dead species, while still paying homage to its original incarnation.
In terms of discovering new twists and angles, that’s when we look for the distinctive features of Byrne’s innovation. My favourite Star Trek novels were by those authors who wrote more than one adventure for Pocket Books, like Diane Duane or Vonda McIntyre. They would create unique and recurring characters who fit well into the Trek universe as well as the story, but also left their own individual contribution to the milieu.
Byrne does the same in his books. A few issues ago, Byrne introduced a three-dimensional holographic imaging system for the engineering monitors. It was an acceptable and logical technology that would be foreseeable in the 23rd century but it also made sense to the story. In this issue, Byrne gives us a new type of environmental suit.
There are two aspects to this type of technology that herald Byrne’s skill: first, he designs the suit from scratch using his developing talent with Photoshop or whatever software he’s using. It fits with the 60’s futuristic vision of the Sixties. Second, he also modifies, and with obvious great patience, existing stock still-footage of the original cast to account for the new costume additions. I don’t know if people appreciate that amidst the dismal pining for John to return to penciling his own stuff that I’ve read here and there on the internet.
This is a new period for Byrne and I’m appreciating it very much. I’m sure Star Trek and comic fans appreciate it too.
There are other hallmarks of Byrne’s own design though that also shine through. I am thoroughly in love with the new version of Grace Lee Whitney, aka Janice Rand, in this revisiting of the series. Not only has she advanced in rank, but she even has a new hair-style and looks great in sciences blue. Gone is the quintessential beehive hairstyling of the sixties and in its place, is what John fondly refers to as a “bob.”
It is most assuredly, “dug”… and that’s an in-joke.
But even in the background, if you look closely, there are little details that Byrne has clearly put there for not only a greater sense of verisimilitude to the original series, but also to satisfy his own inner-Trekkie’s perspective of the Trekverse. On page six, I’m quite sure that is Ensign Marla McGivers walking past Scotty’s engineering station on the bridge.
McCoy’s lab is an innovative addition to Sickbay and seeing Captain Kirk comfort a gay man after the loss of his partner is a feature that shows this to be an original creation rather than the simple continuation of the series. I’m also sure that flooding the Enterprise was no mean feat either.
The moralizing that was so characteristic of Star Trek is also present. As Kirk considers state of the alien’s mind who created such a weapon, we feel sorrow for the alien, despite the damage and loss of life he has incurred. Kirk, Spock and McCoy pause for reflection of this event and almost, as if on cue, my mind starts playing the closing theme music that signifies the end of another great episode.
It is as close to the real thing of watching a new television episode as one can get, folks. Unless CBS decides that they’re going to invest in an Original Series redux that continues the missing two years — and I’m not counting TAS for the purposes of this thread of thought) — then we can look forward to John Byrne continuing them for us.
There’s my joy. I hope it’s yours too.