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Star Trek generations collide for the first time (with all the pop of week-old soda) – The Modala Imperative

June 8, 2012


Star Trek has had ups and downs since its very inception. It was a cultural sensation in the late 1960s. It dodged cancellation once, only to fall before that blade after its third season. It found new life in syndication. It had a feast or famine movie franchise. Multiple television spinoffs occupied the airwaves from 1987 to 2005. And, in 2009, we went back to the beginning, rebooting the original primary color adventures from forty years before. A HELL OF A RIDE.

There were multiple high points along the way, but Star Trek perhaps had its most potent era at the beginning of the 1990s, right around the 25th anniversary of the franchise. The film series was still chugging along with the original crew, and the last crowd-pleasing adventure with the old folks was just around the corner. Star Trek: The Next Generation was hitting its stride, and its touchstone cliffhanger, “The Best of Both Worlds,” had recently left fans hanging for a long, painful summer. There were the earliest brainstorming sessions of a concept that would one day coalesce into Deep Space Nine. There were new paperback and hardcover novels published seemingly daily, and DC had two well-crafted ongoing comic books, each featuring one of the respective generations.

I confess to a degree of chauvinism here, because this was when I was most into Star Trek. I mean, I was into it. I never went to a convention, I never sewed my own costume, I never learned Klingon or anything, but I couldn’t get enough of the fiction. I devoured every last bit of the stuff that I listed above. And I had friends who were into Trek too. It was a moment where the dorkiness of Trek fandom was almost a selling point. I wouldn’t say being a Star Trek fan was hip at that point, but it was easy, perhaps the easiest its every been.

And there were few things that got me quite as ginned up as The Modala Imperative, two intertwined 1991 miniseries that promised fans the first semi-crossover between the Kirk/Picard eras. It wouldn’t be a crossover proper, with Kirk’s and Picard’s crews mixing and mingling, but OMG SPOCK AND MCCOY WOULD BE ON THE ENTERPRISE-D. Leonard “Bones” McCoy had already had a one-scene uncredited cameo in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” but here he’d be back in full. And Spock, a Vulcan whose long lifespan would put him easily in the decades-later 24th century timeframe, would be along for the ride (before his onscreen return later that year in Season 5’s “Unification”).

Then I read the series, eagerly anticipating every installment — and was vastly underwhelmed. It was a case of “it has to get better,” and one of those soul-crushing times when it never does. And reading it again at this relatively distant remove doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment, either.

Pablo Marcos tackled the art chores on both halves of the project, while Michael Jan Friedman and Peter David, veteran Trek scribes both, scripted the respective original and Next Gen portions. Things get off on the wrong foot (with me) on the very first page of the very first issue of the very first mini, as Montgomery Scott and Pavel Chekov vie to see whose written accent is more obnoxious:

This is a personal critique that may be limited to my little corner of the universe, but here goes: Lay off the accents when writing for these guys. If someone is picking up a Star Trek comic, there’s a good chance they’ve internalized the vocal patterns of every single character long ago, and throwing in assorted didnas and sairs is overkill. And yes, obnoxious. An occasional wessel or canna might be acceptable, but I’d rather see none than open the door, you know? I recall reading somewhere, I think in The Elements of Style, that one should be careful when rendering accented dialogue, as it can be really distracting for the reader. Good advice.

The first half of the tale is your standard Prime Directive-laden away mission, as Kirk and a still-learning-the-ropes-and-growing-as-a-person Chekov inspect the planet Modala for potential first contact and Federation membership. But, like roughly 50% of the televised episodes, things go awry when they’re caught in between to warring factions and the Enterprise crew struggles to extract them. HOW ORIGINAL. The pedestrian “been there” framework of the story aside, there’s still some decent character work between Spock and McCoy, the Ego and the Id of their mutual friend the Captain and the stars of both chunks of this bifurcated crossover. Witness:

It fits like an old glove. You can almost hear DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy. (And no dopey accents!)

Another complaint I have with this first half is that moments are carved out for the most minor of minor characters among the original Enterprise crew. This is one of the things I always hated in the Next Generation movies: Getting our story derailed so that lesser characters we don’t give a rat’s ass about could get some time under the lights. I’m looking at you, Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi. This pattern is an unwelcome addition to the original crew’s comic, and unjustifiable since there are no actors making demands for a chunk of the pie. I mean, DOCTOR M’BENGA gets a page here, and it does nothing to move the story forward. But hey, we get a chance to wave and say hi, so that’s fantastic. Mazel. And who hasn’t wanted a dose of the Transporter Tao of Lieutenant Kyle?:

Long story short, Spock and McCoy themselves beam down to he planet to rescue their comrades, and Kirk and Chekov in turn lay the seeds for the Modalan good guys to triumph over their oppressors. This all feeds into the later Enterprise-D reprise, as McCoy is invited to tag along with the new crew to now Federation member Modala to help commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the events of the first series, which spawned that planet’s liberation.

But first, here’s some standard “Data in goofy attire on the holodeck” nonsense:

Now that that’s out of the way…

Much of the (second) first issue revolves around the puckered old McCoy, with his stoop and grandma hair, interacting with the Enterprise-D contingent. I’ll give David credit in that most of his Trek stories, whether book or comic, touch all the requisite characterization bases, but some of the dialogue in these Modala Imperative “get to know you” scenes feels forced, as if there was some quota at play. But hey, McCoy is on Picard’s big bridge, with its Gateway Arch, so there’s that:

As with the first four issues, the big selling point is the play between McCoy and Spock, the latter of whom makes a “surprise” rendezvous at the end of the first issue. The presence of the two of them overwhelms the story to a degree, and most of the Next Generation contingent are afterthoughts in their own time. One piece I genuinely enjoyed, though, involved the two of them giving voice to a debate that’s raged amongst Star Trek fans for decades now: Who’s the better Captain, Kirk or Picard?:

If you want to know McCoy’s answer, you’ll have to read the book. And the answer might surprise you.

Any guesses as to what the big drama is in this century-later rehash? If you said “PRETTY MUCH THE SAME DAMN THING AS THE FIRST SERIES,” then you win a prize. Picard, Troi, McCoy and Spock beam down for the planetside celebration, the Enterprise gets duped away, trapping them on the planet as the Ferengi show up. Yes, the Ferengi, who had a surreptitious hand in that earlier conflagration and have now come to claim their due.

The Ferengi suck as villains (I’m surprised McCoy never uttered a disbelieving “We fought Klingons and Romulans and you get these ass-clowns?”) and this second four issue cycle is very much “McCoy, Spock and the Enterprise-D Babies.” The “youngsters” get short shrift, even, to a degree, Picard. Nothing sums both these things up more than this sequence, amidst the confusion after the Ferengi make their explosive entrance:

A round of Disdain for the house.

It all works out (storywise) in the end. And our two original crew guests never once talk about what happened to their toupee-wearing friend. Which was perhaps for the best.

I remembered little about this “event” apart from my youthful disappointment, and reading it again I’m not surprised, since there’s not much to hang your hat on. Neither of the two halves feels right. In a way it’s forced like the Green Lantern Versus Aliens mini profiled here several days ago (this is better, though). The only selling point — it might be a saving grace — is the Spock/McCoy interplay. The aged doctor’s reaction when he sees his old sparring partner for the first time in years is heartwarming no matter the context. If nothing else, David and Friedman got that dynamic right. And that might be more than enough for some. If so, great.

Of course, none of this really “happened” thanks to the aforementioned “Unification,” which wiped this non-canon stuff off the map. Oh well. Still, it could have been better.

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