Star Trek: Starfleet Academy by Mike Johnson, Ryan Parrott, Derek Charm
Released originally as stand-alone comics, IDW Publishing and Diamond Book Distributors have gathered together all five issues of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Derek Charm. The storyline, which occurs in the reboot universe of the most recent films, is set (no surprise here), at the Academy and mostly follows a new cast of young cadets, though the main figures of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc. are part of a frame. I don’t know if more will be forthcoming, but the potential is there, even if this first foray doesn’t fully meet it.
As mentioned, the major Star Trek characters are involved in the framing story (really “frame” is a bit of a misnomer as this plot-line weaves in and out), which places that plot-line in and around the events of the first reboot movie. References, for instance, are made to the bar fight scene from that film, and we see Spock and Uhura in relationship mode. This section deals with Uhura discovering a distress call from a quarantined section of the galaxy and involving the others in trying to find out where it’s from, whom it’s from, and why Star Trek is apparently trying to bury it. Another subplot, the smallest of the three but integral, involves a few scenes set in the past aboard a lost human exploration ship. The main storyline, the one that introduces the new characters, is set several years later. A new as-yet-to-bond group of cadets is formed when the five are selected to represent the Academy in a competition. The group is made up of:
- T’laan: A Vulcan cadet who is planning on leaving the Academy after the competition to join the remaining survivors of her people on New Vulcan (Vulcan, if you recall, was destroyed in the reboot universe). Her own family died in the cataclysm.
- Shev: An Andorian, more than a little arrogant, impulsive, and under a lot of pressure from his father. He is training to be a security officer.
- Lucia Gonzales: a human with an uncanny ability to “retain information”
- Vel K’Bentayr: A Monchezkin. His race doesn’t usually vocalize and so he narrates everything he is doing. He is training to be a ship’s doctor.
- Grace Chen: a human (I think), perhaps a cyborg of sorts, her skill is piloting.
Each of them participates in an individual segment of competition specific to their particular skill, and then all are part of the final and most important segment, a scavenger hunt. It is during this final section that the three storylines all eventually come together out in space.
The story is solid enough, though I wouldn’t call it compelling. And it wraps up a bit too neatly for me (the ending also a bit to heavy-handedly prepared for in the early stages of the comic). But a more basic problem is the involvement of the major Trek figures. I understand how Kirk et. al. are a draw, but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to not bother with them at all, or at least, have them at the very periphery with very, very little page time. One difficulty that arises because of our familiarity with them is that issues centering on their interaction, such as when Uhura and Spock break up early on, don’t have much impact if you’ve seen the movies. Another drawback is we’ve seen a lot of this before — Kirk making a female indignant, Kirk breaking the rules, Spock’s cool logic causing some issues with emotional humans, etc. The particulars are different, but not the generalities, the characters, or the results.
Shoehorning them in also leads to the unnecessarily complicated time shifting, and in addition means a lot of potentially good scenes happen too quickly, robbing them of much opportunity to have an effect. Removing the regular Trek characters would have dealt with the “we’ve seen them all do this before” feel and more importantly also have allowed more breathing space for the new characters.
But because some pages have to be devoted to Kirk, Spock, and the others, the new characters are given short shrift. T’laan is the most interesting (partially because she gets the lion’s share of the page time), thanks to her tragic backstory and her ambivalence about being part of the Academy. Shev could be interesting if we could have seen more interaction with his father (face to face or via communication devices). Vel presents some nice comic relief at times, but that’s about it. And as for Chen and Gonzales, it’s hard to recall anything much to distinguish them even a few moments after reading the omnibus. The entire group, save for T’laan, feels more like the outline of a group dynamic rather than a living, breathing assembly of three-dimensional people. Which is too bad, because as mentioned, they have potential, and the setting — an academy preparing a medley of alien species to explore the universe — is a great starting point.
The artwork, meanwhile, is clean if a little cartoony at times and more than adequate for the story. I have no complaints at all about it, but I can’t say it’s particularly striking or that you’ll linger over any of the images.
In the end, it’s always a pleasure for me to return to the Trek universe, but this outing was a weak pleasure, due as much to fond memories as to the actual story or characters. That said, I would like to see the writers take these new characters forward on their own and see what happens as they continue to bond and train and open up for us a bit more of that Trek universe.