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Star Trek: Assignment Earth #1
posted June 25, 2008


Creator: John Byrne
Publishing Information: IDW, comic book, 32 pages, May 2008, $3.99
Ordering Nubmers: MAR083767 (Diamond)

I watched the television episode of Star Trek on which this first issue of a mini-series is based: the one starring Gary Seven as a mysterious agent headquartered on Earth in the late 1960s where he works with a time-traveling Enterprise crew to thwart a nuclear war. I would assume that this was intended as a potential spin-off series in the way that such episodes on TV shows were back in those days, although I don't know that for a fact or indeed why it never came off. John Byrne provides a stately, stand-alone first adventure here that adheres more closely to what a show like that would have been like than some grim re-imagining with a more modern sensibility drawing on clues (Gary Seven's ass-kicking proclivities in the teleporter room scene) from the original episode. It's a sedate observe-and-confront adventure with the science fiction elements mostly restrained, like something you might see on a British TV series like Sapphire and Steel: a pleasant way to pass the time for a few minutes, and eminently forgettable.

Byrne's a better cartoonist now than in his younger heyday. His designs are more varied and interesting, his pages flow more smoothly, and his figure drawing is I think more consistent. At the same time, I suspect he was a more vibrant comic book artist in the way many fans measure such things when he was a mainstream industry juggernaut a couple of decades back. There was once an almost-overcompensating chicken fat element to some of his action scenes that enhanced the appealing curves of his take on various character designs. A lot of comics readers will find his current tendency to focus on characters and drop backgrounds, say, to be some sort of fannish betrayal of the "depict everything at all times" credo. I would also guess that this series will be judged on future issues more than this one, and that an overriding plot will develop in those issues by which the series will be remembered or forgotten.

How Byrne handles what's to come is where Star Trek: Assignment Earth might transcend this kind of non-offensive utility it exudes right now to become an item of obscure pop culture interest. I know that's a curious thing for which to hope, but we're talking about very specific buttons being pushed here and an almost ingrained, conceptual marginalization. In the past, things like Star Trek comics existed to keep the franchise alive during times off the air or to supplement an overwhelming interest in the series when it's on. The shows are not on TV, but with a movie on the way and the specter of future shows at some point on some cable network there's no doubt the property is still vital in a way that wasn't clear in the early 1970s. Does this, like the fan-made TV series out there on-line, merely keep the hardcore fan satisfied? Is there some clue as to an older way of telling these sorts of science fiction stories that might be revived in the next iteration? Can comics inform such an old franchise, or is this merely treading water? Does anyone really care about Star Trek anymore?