Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Star Trek - Romulans Treasury Edition

I don't often wander through my comic shop's licensed property section, but questing for the most recent issue of Godzilla: the Half-Century War led me past their Star Trek display. I just happened to spy the new Star Trek: Romulans Treasury Edition; actually, it's size made it rather difficult to overlook.

It's not the largest comic book I own, but the "treasury edition" format always makes me giddy. In this instance, it led me into buying a Star Trek comic book I would have overlooked if the same material had been sold as a trade paperback (as is, the $9.99 price was cheaper than the cover price of the original material).

This book collects three comic books about Romulans which writer-penciler-inker John Byrne created in 2008. Set in the continuity of the 1960s TV show, it opens immediately prior to "Balance of Terror," the episode which introduced the Romulans. The honorable Romulan commander from that episode is (re)introduced, along with his wife, son and the fanatical leader of the Romulans, the Praetor. At the same time the Romulans have begun using their new cloaking devices to cross the Neutral Zone, they've made new allies: the Klingons. On the surface, the Klingons have come to Romulus to obtain their own cloaking devices, but they actually have a secret plan of their own. Considering the Romulans have a reputation in Star Trek for being the galaxy's most cunning spies, there is schadenfreude to be had in seeing them outwitted by Klingons!

It definitely pays to know your 1960s Star Trek before delving into this book. In addition to "Balance of Terror," I recognized references to "the Trouble With Tribbles," "Errand of Mercy" and "the Deadly Years." Because all of this is told from the perspective of the Romulans (and Klingon allies), the Starfleet characters are only ever glimpsed from a distance (although despite being absent from the cast of characters, one James T. Kirk sets into motion much of the action). If you don't recall how "Balance of Terror" played out, you may be confused by how the Romulan commander is given a great introduction, then dies off-panel in battle with the Enterprise. And while you might recognize the Klingons Koloth & Kor from (respectively) "the Trouble With Tribbles" and "Errand of Mercy," Kor's motivation depends on you being familiar with "Errand of Mercy"'s plot. Essentially, having been forcibly prevented by the all-powerful Organians from attacking the Federation, Kor's great scheme is to manipulate the Romulans into waging war on their behalf. He does refer to the "Organian interference," but it's up to the reader to understand its context.

Being printed at such a large size means when Byrne delves into great detail at rendering the people or starships, you can marvel at his skill. However, it also means when Byrne takes shortcuts with his art, the increased size makes it all the more glaring. Let's call it a draw.

The book would definitely profit from a few endnotes to explain the continuity. For that matter, the story could use captions to help with scene transitions. There are moments where knowing how many days/weeks have passed between scenes would help explain the seemingly drastic changes in situation. Further, one sequence presents the Klingons & Romulans engaged in war games, but because the Romulans have a team of Klingon observers aboard their ship, I had difficulty understanding when the perspective switched between vessels.

This isn't the complete story - Byrne wrote three more comics about the Romulans which will reprinted in a 2nd treasury edition to accompany this. I didn't realize it when I bought this book, but I'll happily add the concluding volume to my collection; Byrne and Star Trek are both fond old friends of mine and it's a pleasure to revisit them.


pbpereira said...

Not to stir up stuff or anything, but I thought you'd want to know what Byrne thought of your review:

Anonymous said...

On the otherhand, I will stir stuff up perhaps and say this.

John is being moronic. Your review is fine. He's reading it wrong. I don't know if John Byrne has ever read a review he couldn't find something to complain about no matter how positive it was.

It goes to show you what his life has become, starting threads to complain about year old reviews and not having the guts to link to your site for the entire context of your review.

Just sad.

pbpereira said...

Well said. Byrne is essentially complaining about something that's not even in the review, which is why I felt compelled to draw attention to Byrne's complaint here.

Michael Hoskin said...

Thank you for linking to Byrne's comments - I'm not at all upset by them. Looking back at my comments, I stand by them - the experience of reading the Romulans Treasury Edition is greatly enhanced if you're familiar with classic Trek.

Which, as someone whose first issue of Fantastic Four was #240 (by Byrne!), I'm also aware you don't *need* the continuity to be entertained. If a potential reader has not seen the Trek episodes I noted, I think they might be a little confused but not necessarily disappointed. I was a know-nothing four year old when I read FF#240 yet I turned out okay - it's still a favourite story of mine.

I'm still buying Byrne's stuff. Having been on the internet since 1998, I've long since resigned myself to keeping a few barriers between myself and the creators I enjoy (except for those professional colleagues from my own time at Marvel).