Sunday, May 23, 2010

Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2: A Comic Review

Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2
IDW Publishing
Story and Art: John Byrne
Color: Lovern Kindzierski

My mom drove me to my hometown comic book store Friday afternoon. I picked up a number of books and spent about half of what I would have if I’d bought them in Japan. But I miss buying American comics in Japan. To buy a comic in Japan usually required a shinkansen trip to Tokyo, sometimes during one of my vacation weeks. Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, crowded trains, urban hyper-development from horizon to horizon, delicious food, adventure, excitement.

Now it's a five-minute ride in the passenger seat of Mom's Lincoln. And for yet another retro filip, I bought a book written and drawn by John Byrne. The last time I did that was probably 1992 or 1993. John Byrne is a grizzled veteran, a one-time superstar. What is he doing writing and drawing Star Trek comics for IDW? Are these on anybody’s radar?

Well, I can’t answer that second question, but the answer to the first one is: pleasantly surprising me.

Byrne was the top cat of Funnybook Alley back when I was first getting into comics, one of my artistic heroes. He used to handle all the major super-characters: the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Rog-9000. Now he’s drawing Leonard “Bones” McCoy in a post-series/pre-movies adventure. Remember how Bones showed up in Star Trek: The Motion Picture with a beard? That’s what he looks like here. I missed the first issue, and maybe that's where Byrne gives the beard's origins.

Byrne’s dialogue is mostly of the old school expository variety-- and there's lots of it. The panels are jam-packed with talk. No post-modern irony or fourth-wall breaking here, just a neatly plotted story with a nod to hard science fiction where Bones solves a medical mystery with the help of a brand new supporting cast and Scotty sporting his movie mustache and baby blue pajama-style uniform.

It’s a fun read-- largely self-contained, too, so if feels more as if you turned on the TV and caught an odd episode of the original show rather than overloading the reader with too many continued story threads you may or may not care anything about-- and I like the way Byrne caricatures the familiar characters without relying on photo reference. Photo reference portraits just killed DC’s various Trek titles. Nothing destroys story momentum like a giant, poorly-rendered portrait of William Shatner or Patrick Stewart obviously based on some glossy 8x10 headshot provided by the Paramount publicity department. Byrne also uses the comic book format to expand Trek's vistas-- in this story, he takes care of all the multi-million dollar special effects you could want with a few pen or brush strokes. The towering "vertical farms" McCoy finds on his visit to Gamma Tarses VII (they make me homesick for Tokyo) probably only cost Byrne and IDW a few pennies to render. Suck on that, James Cameron and George Lucas!

There's nothing radical in Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, and if you're a Trek fan, you'll probably enjoy it. Readers expecting blood, guts, meta-humor and photo-realism probably should look elsewhere for their sequential kicks.

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