Saturday, January 16, 2010

Star Trek: The Key Collection 1: A Comic Review!

Star Trek: The Key Collection 1
Checker Book Publishing Group
Scripts: Who knows?
Art: Nevio Zeccara and Alberto Giolitti

Before all the kids went gaga for wars in the stars, they were into trekking among them. Well, my group of friends were anyway.

The only time I could catch Star Trek was around noon on Saturdays, brought to viewers by channel 38, an NBC affiliate out of Tallahassee. This was before cable, so I’d have to tune the TV, meaning I’d actually have to rotate the antenna atop the house—and even then there was no guarantee I’d get a clear picture of Captain Kirk, first officer Mr. Spock and the always irascible Dr. McCoy. More than half the time, it looked as though they were trekking through the snowy Antarctic wastes in search of the South Pole instead of... oh, hell, I dunno... Klingons or Klingoffs, the mugato, the salt vampire, Red Jack, space Nazis or some damned future thing or other.

And then there were the days when I'd prefer to get out of my pajamas and into the sunshine and maybe play kickball.

Luckily for me on one of my extremely rare TV-averse days, Gold Key Comics came through with far out sci-fi adventures featuring the starship Enterprise and its multinational crew of mostly white people from the United States, plus Mr. Sulu and Lt. Uhura. But, much like channel 38’s broadcast, Gold Key’s Star Trek series suffered from intermittent availability in my area. Judging by the cover dates in this book, it must have been published on a sorta quarterly basis. I sometimes lucked into an issue depending on the unknowable ebb and flow of comic book distribution and whether or not I got to the convenience store first. Usually, I either forgot Star Trek existed as a funny book or else read it at the spinner rack and spent my money on a Spider-Man and some Tangy Taffy or a Chunky instead. So I probably owned no more than three issues of this series when it was in print.

Many years later, as a college student, I bought a battered, somewhat musty-smelling copy of Gold Key’s trade paperback reprint series The Enterprise Logs, which contained two of the monthly issues I once owned and read literally to pieces over the course of many boring meals with my family.

So here's Checker Publishing Group with Star Trek: The Key Collection 1, collecting the first eight issues of Star Trek. Apparently written and drawn by people who had never seen a single episode of Star Trek, the comic frequently goes off on wild tangents Gene Roddenberry and company might never have imagined. Spock and McCoy look familiar—their distinctive mugs must have been easy to caricature from publicity photos. But Kirk all too often looks more like George Lazenby in a green turtleneck than William Shatner in his familiar gold tunic (or the less frequently seen green "casual" wrap number). He’s also given to shouting things like, “Yipes!” But I guess even this stalwart starship captain can be forgiven a childish outburst here; after all, a full sized a paper-mache replica of the Eiffel Tower was about to fall on him. At least he fares better than poor Scotty, rendered by the artists a lanky red-head.

His shirt is green, too. Which is… you know… wrong. And doubly so because some generic guy named “Foster” and an anonymous character both get red shirts.

But that’s okay, because Uhura makes exactly one appearance and while she looks a little like Nichelle Nichols… she's white. There’s even a Barbarella-looking red-head doing her job later on who may be her as well. The transporter room is some kind of fishbowl operated by Sulu, who looks a lot like a young George Takei. But he manages to sneak into maybe one other panel. No sign of Chekov.

But that kind of randomness makes these stories a delight. Where else can you see the Enterprise shooting flames like a Saturn V rocket as it soars through space and a mere hundred or so feet over faux Paris and pseudo-Rome? Or the Enterprise crew hiking around with backpacks and Flash Gordon-style zap guns on their hips? Or Nurse Chapel with what appears to be a red Phrygian cap on her head? In these stories, Kirk, Spock and the rest deal with hoary space opera clich├ęs such as human-eating plants (what do they eat when they can’t get people?), intergalactic voodoo and alien pirates armed with a youth ray—a de-aged McCoy tells his horrified captain, “I’m fit as a fiddle and ready to rocket, Jimsy!”

This scene does not appear in any of the stories in this collection.

Yeah, it’s probably for the best the authors of these gems chose to remain anonymous, but Italians Nevio Zeccara and Alberto Giolitti handle the art. They seem to have been influenced more by their own fancies and the early newspaper work of Alex Raymond than whatever reference material Paramount Studios sent them. And with the decision to shoot the art for this book from printed comics with their fat halftone screens-- rather than the original drawings (I’m guessing they’re lost to history or else simply unavailable)-- the overall effect is one of nostalgic whimsy. It’s not quite TV Star Trek but it’s a damned sight more fun than any of the later, more accurate comic book adaptations.

I’m quite taken with Giolitti’s clean old school stylings. As a kid, I was happy when Alden McWilliams took over later and Scotty started looking like James Doohan and the colorist got everyone's shirt the right color, but these days Giolitti is my top Trek comic book artist bar none.

The psychedelic Saul Bass-inspired photo covers are also especially cool. My favorite is number six’s, where the cover copy breathlessly informs Spock, “Think fast, Mr. Spock! A freak impulsion is creating GALACTIC DISASTER!” Since Spock has nothing to use to fight this impulsion—freak or otherwise—save for own two hands and his natty blue sash, he looks justifiably concerned. It’s a still from the famous “Amok Time” episode of the series and Leonard Nimoy’s velour costume is in full effect.

More awesome than Next Generation, more entertaining than Enterprise, less continuity-busting than the last Star Trek movie-- Star Trek: The Key Collection 1.

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