Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

John Byrne’s New Vision of STAR TREK

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.

Fantastic Four 252 sideways issue
You might remember it as the sideways issue.

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:

Fantastic Four 276 splash

The Duo-Shade rendering during his time on Namor:

Namor DuoShade

And in the computer-generated imagery on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World:

JK4W New Genesis Apokolips

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:

New Visions Engine Room

And here’s a Klingon bridge, designed from scratch in the Matt Jefferies style:

New Visions Klingon Bridge

Here’s an alien ship from issue #5:

New Visions alien ship

And an alien pilot from #3:

New Visions alien pilot

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:

Star Trek New Visions 6 Resistance

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:

New Visions 8 Survival Equation

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:

New Visions 9 Hollow Man

One of my favorites, issue #10’s “Mister Chekov,” shows us how our favorite Russian Ensign first came to the attention of Captain Kirk:

New Visions Mister Chekov

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”:

New Visions 14 Sam

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:

New Visions Eye of the Beholder

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!


  1. frasersherman

    Interesting. Much as I roll my eyes at Byrne’s “I’m going back to the originals!” shtick, when he actually does do it he has an amazing flair for capturing the feel and style.

  2. tomfitz1

    I’ve heard about this series by Mr. Byrne.

    I’ve asked Chris Ryall about Mr. Byrne doing follow-ups to his previous series (ie. Cold War, Trio, Doomsday .1, etc) and Mr. Ryall said that all Mr. Byrne wanted to do was the Star Trek: New Visions.

    A long time fan of Mr. Byrne that I am, I haven’t read any of his Star Trek series.

    One of these days, I’ll have to check these out. Assuming I live long enough! 🙂

  3. Le Messor

    I’m a Byrne fan from way back – his Alpha Flight is what got me into comics, after all – but I don’t collect everything of his. I haven’t been getting this, though I’ve noticed it in stores.

    I did recently post on the Alpha Flight forum that I thought Star Trek had been an influence, and that you could see some of ‘Trek‘s ideas in his work (though used very differently).

    ~ Le Messor

    1. I did recently post on the Alpha Flight forum that I thought Star Trek had been an influence, and that you could see some of ‘Trek‘s ideas in his work (though used very differently).

      Yeah, definitely. I can think of one big AF scene in particular that is reminiscent of “The Cage.” That’s the one you’re thinking of, right?

      I’ve spotted a few TREK references in Byrne’s comics work over the years. It might be fun to try to compile as many as I can into a column. (Please don’t start naming them here, though. I don’t want to spoil the whole list before I even write the column. If you want to suggest some to me, PM me on Twitter or something.)

  4. Louis Bright-Raven

    John Turnbull: “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.”

    Merely boosting the brightness is not a good idea. That will typically only wash out the contrast in the image, John. Getting test prints has to be done through the printer, and chances are IDW (as most publishers) just doesn’t want to spend the extra money to get it done.

    My experience working in the printing industry suggests that it may be that JB or IDW’s monitors aren’t calibrated to the same settings as the printer’s tech set up. In order to correct the red-shift in the printing, you have to adjust the image to suit whatever the printers’ monitor settings and printer settings are set to. This is information that the Art Director should be able to get the information from the printer. And I would recommend they pay for their test book before they do their run, because these days, about 30-35% of the comics each month suffer some level of degree of red-shift or some other graphics anomaly in their printed versions because the settings aren’t correct. Unfortunately, today the printer assumes you sent them the correct version – they typically will not correct it for you even if they can see there’s an error – won’t even tell the publisher about it. Or if they are willing to correct it, they will charge you up the wazoo to do it.

    1. Le Messor

      From my (very limited) experience with printing – you’re right. I once designed a book cover, and it took days to get it right. Looked horrible on my screen, not bad on the book.
      (I did up the brightness, but that wasn’t the solution by itself.)

    2. It’s not just calibration. There’s also dot gain. Basically, ink spreads a little bit on paper, the dots getting a little bit bigger, therefore darker colors.

      The red shift is almost entirely accounted for by artists working in RGB mode on material that will be printed in CMYK; if you don’t understand color gamuts, you’re always going to be shocked and disappointed by the print version of your work.

      Free advice: Work in CMYK if it’s going to print on paper. Set your color settings for 20% dot gain. Make sure that nothing on your page has more than 260% ink coverage. (Each of the four colors can go from 0-100%, but if you add up the values of all of them and it comes to over 260%, you’re going to have an oversaturated muddy mess.

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