Recently The Comics Alternative Podcast featured a segment on licensed comics (comics book incarnations of properties originally introduced in another medium, usually film and/or television). At the time (and completely by coincidence), I was reading two such graphic novel collections, Star Wars Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin (2013) by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda, and Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor (2010) by John Byrne.
Now you should know that I am a casual Star Wars fan and a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, yet I’d never sought out comics from either universe before. What made me want to start now?
In the case of Star Wars, I was intrigued that In the Shadow of Yavin was written by Brian Wood, a writer I’ve discovered and enjoyed this year in The Massive, DMZ and other titles. At this point, I’d probably read a Brian Wood graphic novel based on the molecular structure of soil samples in 17th century Yugoslavia. He’s that good a writer.
As for Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, I always thought McCoy got the shaft in the TV series, taking a backseat both to Kirk’s shenanigans with the ladies and Spock’s ongoing logic vs. emotion conflict. Here’s a doctor with Southern roots working on a starship using technology he doesn’t completely trust, but with a humanity you can’t ignore; an interesting dude to say the least. So I was excited to see a volume devoted exclusively to him.
I’d always thought, however, that most (or all) of the significant stories in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes happened in the movies/shows and what might appear in the comics, while they might be fun, were at best peripheral. I mean, anything of any real consequence would be saved for the big (or small) screen, right? Yet, for the reasons mentioned above, I decided to give these volumes a try.
Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin begins with the main Star Wars characters (Luke, Leia, Han) right after the events of the movie Episode IV - A New Hope, so even if that’s all you know of the Star Wars universe, you’ll have enough to go on for this volume, which is nice.
What’s not so nice is how text-heavy the book is at the start. Luke and Leia spend the first several pages flying around in their fighters, telling us an enormous amount of backstory. Eventually things get interesting, but the main focus of the book is twofold: the search for a new home base for the Rebel Alliance and Darth Vader’s being relieved as the primary commander of the Imperial fleet. Other subplots feature Han Solo and Chewie as well as the construction of the new Death Star. There’s a good amount of action, but you feel like Wood is taking his time in setting up all the pieces of the playing field. After finishing the volume, I’m mildly interested in seeing what comes next, but not rabidly awaiting the next installment. So will I pick up the next volume? Maybe.
Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor is a bit of a different story. Byrne, clearly a Star Trek fan, has given McCoy fans a huge reason to celebrate. This volume takes place after Kirk has been promoted to Admiral, so Kirk’s basically reading a collection of letters from McCoy detailing his adventures in the Frontier Medics Program. In these adventures, we see several familiar characters from the original Trek universe, some of whom will be instantly recognizable even to casual fans, others who may be unrecognizable. There may be enough of these unrecognizable characters (In all fairness, there are really only two), however, to frustrate new readers. In some of the stories, McCoy is the guy who saves the day; in others, he’s more of a bystander. Still, these stories are fun.
I suppose my concerns with licensed comics are who is the audience and how much do they want? As the guys in the previously mentioned podcast point out, fans of the movies/shows might pick up these volumes, but would someone new to the Trek or Star Wars universes necessarily want or care about them? Is there enough attraction for a new reader and enough of a feeling that something significant is going on for a veteran fan? Put another way, do fans feel enough of an itch that needs scratching between new movies? Some, no doubt, will. Look at all the novels and graphic novels from both universes that are already out there. It’s like trying to number the stars. And if there’s that much out there, how much of it is really significant?
Right now I don’t personally feel the need to read any more graphic novels in the Star Trek universe. I’m content with the shows and movies, but in all fairness, I do plan to re-read Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor. I also plan to re-read In the Shadow of Yavin, but I’m more inclined to read more graphic novels from the Star Wars universe than the Star Trek one.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Star Wars/Star Trek universes in graphic novel form and licensed comics in general....