The Fifth Color | Ultimate Trek
Forty-three, to be exact.
And 43 years of anything makes you dated. Culture and technology changes so fast in our modern times that yesterday’s science-fiction is today’s foam and cardboard. So, a bunch of people with a lot of money and determination decided to take a course of action that some would consider a much needed face-lift and others outright blasphemy. Spider-Man would get a new revamped series for modern readers- wait, sorry. I mean, Star Trek would get an all-new fresh look with young, hip actors and eye-dazzling CGI. But would we get an all new Chapter One or would we see an Ultimate revolution in the franchise?
Raise your hand if, when you saw the movie and the words ‘alternate reality’ started getting bandied about, you realized you were watching Ultimate Trek? New uniforms, fancied up effects, the bridge that looks like an Apple store, this is what 2009 thinks the future is going to look like. As a fan of both Marvel Comics and Star Trek, this is both brilliant and a long time coming. Considering how well Ultimate Spider-Man has sold (Marvel called it their ‘Gold Standard’ for awhile until they realized no one cared. That or Clone Saga hit. Where was I?), the concept of ‘re-imagining’ your franchise while still providing a loophole for original fans to cling to is having your cake and eating it too. Bill Jemas went out on a limb when he decided Amazing Spider-Man was inaccessible to new readers and created a concurrent series that would bring Peter Parker up to the modern day while the original Peter Parker -Parker ‘Prime’ we’ll call him- can continue his life in peace. Well, as much peace as he ever gets.
It’s kind of interesting that Star Trek should debut its relaunch as the Ultimate line of comics is falling to Ultimatum and also relaunching their books as well. Almost nine years from its inception, it’s my humble estimation that the Ultimate universe has become convoluted and twisted and kicked around so much that a great big wash from some crazy Magneto plot could clean out our best and brightest imprint as shiny and gleaming as the bridge of the new Enterprise. So let’s see what we can pass back to JJ Abrams and company about what went right… and what went wrong:
What Went Right: Modern Day Heroes
Ultimate characters have a lot of mainstream appeal and are geared for the 21st century. People who grew up reading Spider-Man are able to pass on their beloved hero to younger readers who will relate to this new teen Parker, not to mention those just getting on the bandwagon from the movie’s box office success.
Guys and gals, I don’t have to tell you this works; Star Trek has tossed aside the vinyl and deco of the original bridge for all new plastics and lighting effects. The uniforms are more streamlined than sweaters, the tricorders as pocket as any Palm pilot. Design is key when relating to your readers and for some, the classic ’60s look is just going to be that. New readers and viewers deserve a fresh look and Star Trek sure as heck gave them that with a few stylistic touches to remind us what we’re watching. After all, you can only change Spidey’s costume so much before he loses that iconic design.
What Went Wrong: Tailgating Canon
Ultimate X-Men was the worst case of this for the entire line of Ultimates; when things first started out, it seemed as if the book was going in a much more ‘realistic’ if not political vein than how Uncanny X-Men started out. There’s a lot of intrigue, drama, action… and then, slowly but surely, we started finding more and more influence from original X-Men storylines. Jean’s eventual Phoenix revelations were different, but somehow similar to what we’d seen before. More and more characters were getting the name Ultimate slapped on their names and sent out into the books and by the time the final issues were coming out, it had to have as much if not more explanation to your average reader than the original ‘overcomplicated’ Uncanny X-Men. To me, the Ultimate line should have always remained casual, without needing to get out the flowchart of storylines to enjoy. Depending on what we get out of Ultimatum, this may return to be the case.
However, for Star Trek, their tailgating of canon has actually allowed the screenwriters to tell less story as opposed to too much. Why is Kirk the Captain of the Enterprise? Because old Spock said he should be. The characters who just so happened to be on duty that roster rotation just so happen to be the guys we all know and love. Things don’t come together to form the story, they’re already there because it’s the way things should be. If Khan turns up for the next movie, I really hope they try a new tactic on what I consider to be the best Star Trek movie of all time, or simply leave the legend alone to create their own.
What Went Right: Quicker Backgrounds to Popular Characters
Odd I should say this since the flagship book took seven issues to tell an eleven page story, but it’s true. Ever try and tell people the story of Elektra from Frank Miller’s comics? It’s a lot easier to just tell them the Ultimate version. Sure, it’s got a lot less ninjas but does get them in and out of the story reasonably and entertainingly. Remember: at it’s inception, the Ultimate line was a way for popular properties to reach a more mainstream audience and when character’s basic backgrounds get longer than that little blurb above the title on the first page? Having some intro TPs and comics make getting the reader involved a lot faster with immediate interest and results.
Sure, I may chide the new Star Trek movie for being a little too quick to shove all the characters together but I do realize why. No one wants to see the Amazing Adventures of Lt. Kirk on the USS Farragut (okay, besides me), so let’s just cut to the chase. It does an excellent job of relating Spock to the new folks in the audience, considering the rest of us have had years to grok the guy.
What Went Wrong: Needless Death
Nothing like a ‘death of’ note in the Overstreet index to make an eyebrow quirk. It might be just me, but it’s seemed more and more like modern comics from the Big Two equate death with a boost in ratings and the modern reader just sees another revolving door. Take Beast for example; dead in Ultimate X-Men #45, back in #81. The time he spent dead really didn’t change the book outside of giving Storm an excuse to visit Hot Topic and bringing him back was less Jean Grey rising from the ashes and more ‘Hey guys, anyone notice I was gone?’. He died to show that this universe was going to be different than the established 616 and came back when they realized that they weren’t as different as they thought. Ultimatum comes in and promises us bodies upon bodies from the get-go and while the Ultimate reboot really might put this mindless slaughter into perspective, I can’t help but sort of suffer through to get to point of it all.
Star Trek can one-up the death count on two terms of genocide! And yet, neither are needless. The destruction of Romulus propelled the plot as much as it could to put Nero straight on the path to revenge which led to the ‘Ultimate’ universe’s destruction of Vulcan. I doubt one can just bring back the civilization in a couple issues, but sadly we won’t get the full depth and breadth of what the loss of Vulcan will entail after a few issues or episodes.
What Went Right: At Heart Truism
No matter what era we find our hero in, Peter Parker continues to struggle with power and responsibility. The X-Men live in a world that fears and hates them. The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The moment you walk away from themes that made these comics great in the first place is the moment you lose the point of writing a Spider-Man/X-Men/Avengers story in the first place. I know I stopped reading Ultimate Fantastic Four because, while they were giving me the super science, I barely thought the characters liked each other let alone might have thought of themselves as a unit or team. They’re not exactly the Fantastic Individuals, you know. The Ultimate line started out strong at giving us the heart of characters that have lasted the test of time and as the years grew on, slowly got away from their original intentions. They tried to be original and different but keep all the same stories that had us hooked on the characters before and in the end, Magneto’s just turning the world upside down, shaking it like an Etch-a-Sketch, and Marvel’s trying it again.
At heart, what is Star Trek? Why has it endured all of these years, spawned its own language, become part of our pop culture landscape while Lost in Space gets only a gag or two in the history books? What is the At Heart Trueism we’re supposed to take away from this new Trek and did we? Stay tuned and next I’ll let you in on my worst kept secret: I was an extra in the latest Star Trek film.