Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Comics: Star Trek: The Next Generation #2 (March 1988)

"Spirit in the Sky!"
Writer: Mike Carlin
Pencils: Pablo Marcos
Inks: Carlos Garzon and Arne Starr
Letters: Bob Pinaha
Colors: Carl Gafford
Editor: Robert Greenberger

I can't recall many other Star Trek stories that dealt with Christmas — there was a Picard Christmas dream sequence in Generations — probably because the series' humanistic point of view just doesn't mesh well with the rituals and religious underpinning of the holiday. (Of course, Patrick Stewart's one-man stage version of A Christmas Carol from the 1990s was extremely popular.)

This is still a really hard story to swallow and to judge because of the circumstances. This was the second issue of the first Star Trek: The Next Generation series DC published. It was released to coincide with the debut of the TV series itself in the fall of 1987. While DC's classic Star Trek comic and the movie series were quite popular, no one knew if TNG was going to be a hit or a massive flop. So DC hedged its bet with a six-issue miniseries. And given the time frame of comic book production back then, the first few issues of the comic had to be completely written, drawn and ready to go to press long before the first episodes of the TV show were finished or aired. So all the comic creators had to go on were things like the series bible, early scripts, photo reference and the overall guidance of the Paramount licensing office.

So it kind of makes sense to do a Christmas story in this second issue, as Christmas stories can get away with a lot and it would buy DC another issue to try to figure out the new series.
Still, this is an odd one: On Christmas Eve, the Enterprise encounters a strange energy form, followed immediately by an encounter with an alien Creeg ship. The Enterprise crew, celebrating the many holidays of its diverse crew, welcome the Creeg and their leader, Captain Bronder, to the ship for the celebrations. But it turns out the Creeg are after this alien energy, which is hiding on the ship. A snoopy Wesley Crusher — in Kitty Pryde mode — stumbles upon a Creeg searching the ship for the energy and tells on him to the captain. This leads to some tense moments as they track through the ship this odd form of energy that brings a sense of happiness and good feelings to everyone it contacts. Eventually, it's tracked to the bridge, where scanners show it resembling a jolly old man in a hat and coat. When even the skeptical Picard begins to believe in the energy form, it grows healthier and bestows good holiday feelings on the entire group before moving on into space.

There's some really weird stuff going on in this issue. Pablo Marcos' artwork is very stylized and he has a flair for futuristic fashions and architecture that counters a decided stiffness in the poses of the characters and staging of the scenes. The only problem with the former is that nothing besides the bridge really looks like the interiors of the Enterprise from the show. The fashions are the funkiest and perhaps coolest art addition, and surely would have caused a sensation had the show's actresses ever worn such clothes. And none of that comes close to the image of Data wearing a tie and a vest — with no shirt. There are other relics from the original conception of the TV show, such Wesley Crusher being especially whiny and an overly diverse crew represented here by the super-annoying Bickley characters and a helmsman named Skooch.

Despite all the weirdness inside, I think I like the cover the best, with the snow and Christmas Tree on the bridge as a muscular Captain Picard faces off with Bronder. I think I had this comic — which I bought as a back issue about a year after it came out — for a few days before I even noticed those elements because it was so stylized and strangely colored.

In all, this issue is a major mess that I'm sure Paramount would like to forget ever saw print. But it's also kind of cool to have this very strange take on TNG from the days before its identity was truly pegged down as one way the series and franchise could have gone.

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