With Jody Houser taking over the writing duties on Star Trek Year Five, IDW Publishing have a master of science fiction storytelling on their hands. Heavily influenced by the 1960’s style of Star Trek, the latest issue out this week continues the run on familiar stories told in a modern way.
Landing on a desolate planet, the Enterprise away team embarks on an archaeological survey. They collect a few artefacts to transport back to Earth for investigation but Dr Bennett, the archaeologist amongst them, believes they are missing a rare chance for discovery.
Agreeing with her up to a point, Captain Kirk ponders on the alien life they already have on board: The Tholian they have nicknamed Bright Eyes.
After leaving the planet’s surface the crew return to their usual routine however a strange force begins affecting the crew. Tempers become frayed and patience seems be running out. Minor instances start to escalate and it’s not long before everyone appears affected.
With this issue of Year Five Houser has written a classic Star Trek story. Similar in concept to the Original Series episode, The Naked Time, and its Next Generation follow up, The Naked Now, the main premise deals with a cabin fever type situation. The crew of the star ship are trapped in close proximity to each other, living in each other’s shadows, unable to get away. Houser uses small breakouts to identify the problem, making it clear that these confrontations are bubbling just beneath the surface and it only takes a small unexplained nudge to bring it all out.
As the plot thickens, so does the intensity of the disagreements. The script reflects the frustration and resentment within the crew members and Houser draws attention to moments where the cast act out of character: for example, during the senior officers meeting there are some oddities within the conversation that makes the reader re-read several panels. This is intentional and is a way of highlighting the problem the Enterprise crew face.
Houser has a clear understanding of the characters and captures their voices and mannerisms wonderfully. The gently conversation between Kirk and Uhura is contrasted with the ‘boyish’ banter between the male officers. This type of behaviour was evident in the original T.V. series and Houser makes it work during this story without it seeming out dated.
Silvia Califano uses fine inked lines to create detailed character work. There is an element of claustrophobia to her panels which mirrors the underlying theme of the narrative. The back grounds are sparse and often reflect the coldness between the cast members in the foreground. With the color assist from Thomas Deer some of the panels even take on the heightened emotions of the characters, alternating for a brief moment from cold greys to stark oranges or reds and back again.
These flashes of emotion drive the story forward and illustrate how out of character the regulars are. This impression is also given in the way that Califano handles the panel boarders. Occasionally the panels become small slivers behind the character or the boarders are irregular signalling to the reader that there is something amiss.
Because of this focus on characters there is a lot of space for Neil Uyetake to place his lettering. His speech balloons occupy the empty space but do not fill it. They are often subtle with small amounts of text in speech balloons that hover over a vast block of color. They almost become swamped by the emptiness around them and this has the opposite effect than a large, screaming word balloon. The speech is amplified by the background, almost like an awkward pause before someone speaks.
It is clear from the opening that this story is going to be about the crew, trapped together on the Enterprise with disaster lurking just around the corner. The panel layouts; the block, expressive coloring; and the tightly controlled lettering, all build the impression of a crew under pressure, a kettle reaching boiling point.
Houser has written for a number of science fiction franchises and she has an ability to get to the heart of the characters very quickly. She draws on their strengths and weaknesses to move the narrative on, knowing exactly who to put in each scene. The interactions between the main crew in Star Trek Year Five are perfect representations of the characters we all know and love. These are then illustrated with such fine precision by Califano.
The story is not original, not in general science fiction or even in Star Trek but this is irrelevant because the creators of Star Trek Year Five are telling their story in such a fun and exciting way. Small character moments make this issue a joy to read and there is also the ongoing Tholian story-line that is always central to what is happening aboard the Enterprise.
Each new creative team they bring onto Star Trek Year Five has made the comic their own while at the same time producing something that is simply Star Trek. This series, and this issue in particular, has included some of the best Star Trek moments in recent years. If you only read one Star Trek comic this year, it definitely has to be this one.