Review: New Life and New Civilizations (ed.) Joseph F. Berenato

The history of Star Trek comics. (We’ve got one coming that’s not in the book!)

Spock Genocide

Star Trek’s prime directive states that the crew of the Enterprise must not interfere with the social development of civilisations on alien worlds. It’s possible that Spock contravenes this directive in issue #1 of Gold Key’s Star Trek comic, when he ruthlessly wipes out all life on the planet Kelly Green.

In the defence of the Gold Key comic’s authors, they hadn’t actually seen any episodes of Star Trek up to that point. The Italian illustrators had been given only the barest reference materials.

How things would change from that inaugural comics run in 1967 to the first comics adaption of Star Trek: The Next Generation, twenty years later. In a terrific essay in this book, the comics’ editor explains all the hoops they had to jump through to get approval for each comic, including feedback from a surprisingly tetchy Patrick Stewart.

He wanted Picard’s head pointier and then asked for less hair to ring his head. This was a recurring refrain from him for the first year or two, making me wish I had invested in White Out. 

New Life and New Civilizations, a collection of essays on the history of Star Trek comics, is full of similar nuggets of trivia, making it an essential read for fans of series. It is not however, a slavish adoration of all things Trek. Several authors are prepared to cast a very critical eye over the material. Cody Walker even goes so far as to call one Trek comic “pure blasphemy”.

Sometimes, the contributors take things too seriously. In one bizarre moment, an author solemnly informs us that in a Star Trek coloring book for children

No ethical or moral dilemmas are presented nor explored.

In a coloring book?

New Life and New Civilizations

This collection is also highly recommended for people interested in comic book history as it casts a light on the world of licensed properties in comic book form. It’s incredible to see how this process has changed over fifty years. Malibu Comics publisher Tom Mason relates that in the early 1990s:

When we got the Planet of the Apes and Alien Nation licenses from 20th Century-Fox, it was as easy as ordering a pizza and handing over a check. They didn’t even read material that we’d sent them ostensibly for approval. I stopped sending stuff to Fox after a while, and nobody ever called to find out what happened.

By 2009, the growth of graphic novels had changed the status of comics beyond imagining. When JJ Abram’s new Trek movie hit the cinemas, it was accompanied by a comic mini-series not just approved but actually plotted by the screenwriters themselves, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Kurtzman and Orci also stated that their comics were canon, so there would be no more random paths appearing in the comics only to be conveniently forgotten later.

Star Trek book and record set

Their passion for the Star Trek franchise is shared by almost all of the creative teams, in whatever format they were working. This love for the characters is even there in weird merchandising like the 1970s book and record sets, where kids read along to a comic whilst listening to a recording of the words on vinyl (a bell rang when it was time to turn the page).

This dedication to making adaptions comes from the fact that many of those working on these comics are big names in the SF and comics field, like Ringworld creator Larry Niven or legendary Batman artist Neal Adams.

The involvement of big hitters like these is a reflection of the huge importance of Star Trek as a landmark in the popularisation of SF. New Life and New Civilizations is a fine addition to the growing library on all things Trek. It will make interesting reading for anyone even with a passing knowledge of the original series and The Next Generation, as well as the Hollywood movies.

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