By Mike Johnson, Ryan Parrott, and Derek Charm
Let’s talk about Star Trek. Created in 1966, Star Trek is probably the second biggest and most influential science fiction franchise (behind Star Wars), having lasted for 50 years and passed into nearly every conceivable medium, including comics. In all that time, Star Trek has worn many hats. Despite what some fans might like to think, there’s always been a decidedly populist bent to the series. So, when the film series lost momentum in the early 2000s and the Star Trek: Enterprise prequel show sputtered out there was a lot of history to draw on for a reboot series. Unfortunately, the reboot continuity, which Star Trek Starfleet Academy is apart of, has so far remained cripplingly skin deep and decidedly inhuman, with none of Star Trek’s emphasis on how humanity deals with incredible situations. That problem is still present in Star Trek Starfleet Academy though nowhere near as prevalent as Star Trek Into Darkness or the video game. The bigger problem that marinates this first issue is the same problem that’s been woven into the DNA of the reboot continuity from the first film; not only does it not feel like Star Trek, it feels like it’s actively trying to NOT be Star Trek.
Our story is a weird and needlessly confusing one, so right from the start things aren’t looking great. For some reason the issue is split between a prequel story to the 2009 reboot movie explaining the various first meetings and mechanics that facilitated that story. These parts are easily the weakest of the comics, mainly because the film characters remain as shallow and surface level as ever. Spock is still just an emotionless Lego man with none of the original series’ emphasis on his inhumanity being his greatest strength, Chekov is still just a human version of Toto, and Uhura is still nowhere near as interesting or pragmatic as she was in the classic series. It’s also still a little weird that Star Fleet NEEDS her as a translator at all when it’s been thoroughly established they have universal translator technology but that’s minor a nitpick, the point is none of the characters are that well developed or interesting and what they’re doing isn’t that engaging either. We already know Uhura and Spock will end up together so the fact they break up in the opening has no punch and we already know that the distress signal Uhura is locking onto is the Klingons so there’s no suspense to that plot thread.
The other half of this comic is where things get a lot more interesting, involving a Vulcan cadet named T’laan. T’laan is a top student at the Starfleet Academy, but she’s considering leaving to help the remnants of her people on New Vulcan. This is one of the few truly interesting ideas in this comic, playing up the impact of Vulcan’s destruction on the racial politics and profile of Star Fleet. The Star Fleet of the previous continuity was defined, in a major way, by the presence of the Vulcans, so the fact that their scientific expertise and intelligence would be suddenly denied to the Federation makes for a very new and different world. The idea doesn’t get very much lip service here but it’s at least present. The real plot is just about T’laan joining some kind of space race exploration competition with a team of mildly interesting cadets. The character balancing isn’t great yet, mainly owing to certain members like Vel K’Bentayr lacking much definition beyond “polite guy,” but they all at least feel like full characters.
The characters here are engaging, and the set-up of inter-school competition is a pretty interesting. The problem is that there’s nothing about the characters or set-up that needed to be Star Trek, in that you could’ve just swapped out alien races and had exactly the same story. In fact, 60% of the core characters aren’t even intrinsic Star Trek races. There’s a Cyborg who seems to have wandered out of Star Wars and a big generic alien who looks like the cousin of Dr. Solus from Mass Effect. It’s possible that the next four issues will take things in a more overtly Trek direction, possibly borrowing obstacles and encounters from the original series for the cadets’ star trek. Given how often these new Trek comics have completely bungled similarly good set-ups like the Tholian Web or the Q Gambit, the odds are not in their favor.
The artwork and coloring by Derek Charm is a mixed bag in its own right. He’s got a very cartoony aesthetic that’s reminiscent of a blend between the Star Trek animated series and Golden Book. When called upon to actually render the various actors from the films he does a commendable job, but there’s just not very much to his artwork beyond that fact. Everything looks accurate but not striking, competently rendered but with very little in the way of visual flair or memorable flourish or stylization. There’s nothing wrong with Charm’s workman-like approach to illustration and coloring, it’s just not very impactful or engaging. There’s never a scene where that really makes you sit up and take notice; it’s all just a little flaccid and perfunctory.
It’s possible personal bias is coloring this review. At the same time if the comic had been higher quality and amazing, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Honestly, more than franchise fidelity or prequel problems, this issue’s biggest misstep is its staggering mediocrity and lack of a clear audience. It just doesn’t feel like a story that’s meant for anyone aside from people really desperate for new Star Trek material who don’t care where it comes from because it’s better than nothing.