Star Trek
Death Before Dishonor

Author: Peter David
Artists: James W Fry and Arne Starr
Titan Books
RRP: 14.99, US $19.95
ISBN 1 84576 154 5
Available 23 December 2005

The Klingons are after Captain Kirk with a vengeance, and when he also manages to infuriate the fanatical Nasgul race, a bidding war breaks out for the price on his head. Meanwhile, Kirk and his crew must also face a vicious civil war and a plague outbreak, not to mention a duplicitous Starfleet Admiral and a new - and highly attractive - protocol officer...

Titan has taken me by surprise once again. I was expecting this, the second volume of its Star Trek Comics Classics series, to pick up where the previous one, To Boldly Go left off, with the issues leading up to and including the comic-strip adaptation of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Sadly that is not the case. Instead, we fast-forward to the first six issues of the second DC Comics series, which began in 1989, shortly after Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Ah well, at least this volume benefits from the considerable writing talent of Peter David (who went on to create the New Frontier series of Trek novels). The author's keen grasp of characterisation and plot is evident here, though he does tend to exaggerate Kirk's gung-ho personality somewhat.

The Captain has admittedly been something of a maverick in his time, playing fast and loose with the Prime Directive in episodes such as A Taste of Armageddon and The Apple. However, even in those shows Kirk spent the best part of 50 minutes of TV time deliberating the situation before passing judgement and taking action that would affect the fate of an entire alien civilisation. Here we see him dismissing a religious leader as a madman within seven pages of meeting him, while his solution to another irksome dictator is appealing though not strictly legal. Rather like watching 24's Jack Bauer torturing a terror suspect, I find myself cheering on a hero whose actions would, in the real world, fill me with horror. I am uncomfortably reminded of the "we were right to bring down Saddam, and to hell with legality" attitude of George W Bush.

Sadly, David isn't allowed as free a creative reign as he and his predecessors were during DC's initial series. Paramount forbade close focus on supporting characters created specifically for the comics, so goodbye Bearclaw, Bryce, Konom and Sherwood. The use of the Animated Series characters Arex and M'Ress was also outlawed, so here we see M'Ress, who had begun a flirtation with Sulu towards the end of DC's first run, rather crudely replaced with an antelope-horned female crewmember called M'Yra. You can even see where the text has been overwritten to accommodate the change.

In line with the broad humour of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the author develops Spock's dabbling with "colourful metaphors" and Kirk's frustration with his still malfunctioning log recorder. Further cheap laughs are had at the expense of Chekov's pride in Russian "inwentions" (and his accent) and Sulu's stature.

Don't get me wrong, I like David's writing. I just prefer the first DC series to the second. This deceptively elaborate star-spanning tale builds to a magnificent conclusion, which also ties in the consequences of Kirk's actions in the aforementioned A Taste of Armageddon (the repercussions of The Apple had already been dealt with in DC's previous series). Unfortunately, we don't get that conclusion here. We have that to look forward to in a future volume, whereas this one ends on a cliffhanger.

As for the art of James W Fry and Arne Starr, well, I prefer that of their predecessors Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran. Fry and Starr's renderings are not so easy on the eyes, often appearing rather untidy or out of proportion, particularly during the first couple of issues. They are not always complemented by the sometimes clumsy colouring by Tom McCraw. Things improve considerably over the later issues, though for some reason the artists seem to think that the Federation President is bald.

Interestingly, developments involving the President and Starfleet Command are the reverse of what would transpire in the subsequent movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In the film, it is the President who ruthlessly condemns Kirk (and McCoy) to the Klingons' rough brand of justice, to the horror of Starfleet's Chief in Command. In this graphic novel, it is Vice Admiral Tomlinson who appals an earlier President with his callousness.

Also featuring archive interviews with Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and the late James Doohan (Scotty), this volume is not without its flaws but it is very enjoyable nonetheless.

Richard McGinlay

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