Weird as it is to think, I’ve been a fan of John Byrne’s for 34 years now, ever since I found a copy of Fantastic Four #252 in an airplane seat pocket.
One of the reasons I’ve been fan of Byrne’s for so long is that he consistently tries new stuff. This gives his work a sense of fun and excitement you don’t always see with other creators. You can see it in the photographic backgrounds he used in the Fantastic Four:
The Duo-Shade rendering during his time on Namor:
And in the computer-generated imagery on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World:
I appreciate this kind of experimentation, even when it’s unsuccessful, because it means that Byrne’s always trying to find ways to make the work better.
Which brings me to John Byrne’s current project, Star Trek: New Visions. I’ve mentioned the series before, but I’m going to talk about it in-depth this week.
New Visions, in case you haven’t heard of it, started out as Byrne messing around with turning a Star Trek episode into a comic book using screencaps, similar to the Trek Fotonovels of the 70s. But soon, Byrne started wondering if he could create a “new” episode by re-combining and manipulating screencaps. Before long, it blossomed into a full-fledged story, “Strange New Worlds,” that followed up on Star Trek’s second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” IDW agreed to publish it as a one-shot annual, and the sales were encouraging enough that it became a regular bimonthly series shortly thereafter.
You’d think that photoshopping new comics out of TOS screencaps would be a gimmick that quickly gets old, but Byrne’s gotten pretty creative with this series. He uses the 3D modeling program Strata to create digital sets and give him more flexibility in his stories. Here’s his version of the Enterprise‘s engine room:
And here’s a Klingon bridge, designed from scratch in the Matt Jefferies style:
Here’s an alien ship from issue #5:
And an alien pilot from #3:
Byrne also has to work within certain limitations. Some TOS actors, like Ricardo Montalban, Roger C. Carmel, Teri Garr, and Eddie Paskey, haven’t authorized the use of their likenesses, so we won’t be seeing Khan, Harry Mudd, Roberta Lincoln, or Mr. Leslie in the series (although he did find a way around the Harry Mudd issue). And of course, Byrne also has to stay true to (or at least not blatantly contradict) the existing Star Trek canon.
But as Trek director Nicholas Meyer has said, art thrives on limitations, and Byrne’s had some clever workarounds on the limitations he’s been faced with. He’s had a few TOS guest actors “return” as different characters by altering their appearances slightly. In issue #6, “Resistance,” Byrne even figures out a way to have Kirk and his crew encounter the Borg without violating continuity:
Issue #8, “The Survival Equation” features a guest appearance from 30 Rock star and comics fan Scott Adsit as the space pimp who runs Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet:
Issue #9, “The Hollow Man,” updates us on what Leila Kalomi has been up to since “This Side of Paradise,” as her husband is taken over by an alien presence:
One of my favorites, issue #10’s “Mister Chekov,” shows us how our favorite Russian Ensign first came to the attention of Captain Kirk:
And the latest issue, #14, “Sam,” gives us a story with Captain Kirk’s older brother accused of murder. Byrne created his version of George Samuel Kirk by flipping photos of William Shatner and grafting on Jeff Corey’s hair and beard from “The Cloud Minders”:
Are all the visuals 100% effective? No, but that’s okay. Sometimes you see a wonky head replacement or something, but it’s really no more bothersome than a bad matte line in an effects shot. The only thing that’s a real consistent problem, in my opinion, is the sometimes murky printing New Visions suffers. Some pages and panels print so darkly that you lose the main figures in the background. I know from some of my own Photoshop projects that sometimes things that look great on one monitor can look really dark on another, and even darker when printed. As a result, a lot of the issues look better in the digital format than they do in the printed book. Screen luminosity can really play tricks with you sometimes, so I wish that Byrne or somebody at IDW would test print a few pages or boost up the brightness by 10-20% before they send it off to the printers.
Byrne has a real flair for TOS-style stories, and the dialogue is typically spot-on. You can usually hear Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, and the others in your head as you read. There’s also been a nice mix of sequels and original stories, peppered with neat bits of fan-service that fill in various gaps in the TOS mythos (Why did Janice Rand transfer off the Enterprise? When did Captain Kirk and Koloth first meet? What exactly happened during “The Great Tribble Hunt”? And does the Enterprise really have a bowling alley?).
Byrne is obviously having a ton of fun with this series, and his enthusiasm comes through to the reader. In one backup story in the second trade paperback, he even has Kirk briefly beam up to the hilariously inaccurate Enterprise of the early Gold Key comics:
That is some seriously deep cut geekery there. He even has the squared-off word balloons and Mr. Spock’s ears sweeping back instead of forward.
In short, the series is exactly what Star Trek should be, which is fun. If you’re curious about New Visions (and I hope you are), there are four trade paperbacks out that each reprint three issues, all priced at a reasonable $19.99. Volume One contains the Gary Mitchell story, a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror,” and “Time’s Echo,” a mystery involving time travel. Volume Two features “Cry Vengeance,” a follow-up to “The Doomsday Machine,” “Made of Mudd,” and “A Scent of Ghosts,” a story that features Captain Pike and Number One. Volume Three has the Borg story, the return of Gary Seven, and the story with Scott Adsit and the Andrea robot from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” And Volume Four contains “The Hollow Man,” “Mister Chekov,” and “Of Woman Born,” a follow-up to the episode “Who Mourns For Adonais?” The trades are a nice way to sample the series, and they also contain a bit of bonus material that’s not available in the original issues. (And as always, if you purchase them through the Amazon links above, the Atomic Junk Shop will get a cut). The series is also available on Comixology and iTunes.
And if you’re really curious about New Visions, Byrne has a thread over on his Forum that traces the project from its inception right up to the latest issue that’s currently at 178 pages and counting. It’s neat to see teases from upcoming issues and bits of the work in progress. Issue #15 will be out in April, and judging from the cover and the preview pages in #14, it’s looking like it might be a Doctor Who homage. Sounds cool, huh?
So if you’re a fan of John Byrne, Star Trek, or just cool comics that are outside the norm, give New Visions a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
See you next week!