Ellison’s ‘City’ displays its original edge
[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
I grew up with Star Trek in the lean times of the mid-1970s, between the end of the Animated Series and the premiere of The Motion Picture, when fandom had to sustain itself with zines, comics and the occasional prose novel. In that spirit, I defy any of my Trekkie/Trekker contemporaries to not be transported (pun intended) by the first-issue cover of IDW’s six-issue City On The Edge Of Forever adaptation. It’s a note-perfect pastiche of one of those old paperbacks, with a surrealist Enterprise projecting (through a woman’s eye) a lone Starfleet figure fleeing into the heart of a 20th Century metropolis. With everything framed against a clock face and a smattering of stylized stars, it suggests the disjointed isolation of the Original Series’ most revered episode.
Writers Scott and David Tipton and artist/colorist J.K. Woodward have likewise done their best to reproduce the feel of Harlan Ellison’s late-1960s teleplay — although not necessarily the feel of a first-season Trek installment. Since this was still fairly early in Star Trek‘s history, Ellison’s work wasn’t exactly compatible with the producers’ collective vision.
Therein lies the appeal not just of Ellison’s original teleplay, but of IDW’s adaptation. Longtime fans know the major divergences between “City” 1.0 and the filmed version, including a different “antagonist” (a drug-dealing crewman, who’s the focus of much of this first issue) and a different ending.
However, part of the fun is seeing how much of the familiar Trek lore comes through. Decades of movies and sequel series have fleshed out the Starfleets of three separate centuries, but those original episodes often painted a picture of a starship truly alone on the final frontier, with only its crew’s wits standing between some mysterious, implacable force and death in the void of space. Think of the wastelands of Talos IV or Delta Vega, or the solitary existences of the Salt Vampire or the miners after Mudd’s women. “City on the Edge of Forever” amps that up considerably, stranding Kirk and Spock not just on a planet but in a time where their future (and even the TV viewers’ future) is still only a possibility. The Tiptons and Woodward capture all those elements in this first issue, from a Captain’s Log which mentions crewmen cracking under psychological stress, to the near-immortal Guardians of Forever on their “empty death of a world.” You can almost hear the mournful soundtrack.
Accordingly, as with Dark Horse’s recent The Star Wars, this version of “City” is borne significantly on the back of its artist. Woodward, whose last Trek work was (I think) the TNG/Doctor Who crossover, faithfully brings the Original Series’ sets back to life, and his new characters look reasonably like the sort of character actors who’d guest-star on a late-’60s middlebrow show like Star Trek. His likenesses are pretty good as well, although as far as the big stars go we see only Kirk, Spock, McCoy (in a brief, wordless cameo) and Yeoman Rand — who, by the way, gets to fire a phaser rifle. The issue ends on a subdued cliffhanger, but that’s about my only complaint. The Tiptons and Woodward keep things moving by setting up the tension between Beckwith (the drug dealer) and LeBeque (the junkie). This leads to murder, and from there to the time portal, where the first jump through time is made. We’ll have to wait until issue #2 to see how Kirk and Co. respond, but I think (from what I remember about Ellison’s original version) that once the action shifts to 1930, the story will delve more into the lives of the locals than Spock’s work with “stone knives and bearskins.”
Overall, it should be a journey worth taking. To paraphrase the end of the filmed episode, let these fine folks be your gateway.