Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive (#1-4)

 "Resistance was futile" - Locutus

Star Trek The Next Generation is the second greatest science fiction TV show ever.  It sustained me through years of no Doctor Who (the first greatest science fiction show ever) and the subsequent series Deep Space Nine and Voyager all had their merits too.  Enterprise can sod off though, an undertaking so misconceived it killed the Trekverse stone dead and forced the makers of the 2009 film into doing a full reboot of Trek history to make up for it.  Anyway with that off my chest, lets turn to this graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive.  From the cover it looks very promising.  We have the great Captain Picard; Locutus of Borg, the being he was transformed into to speak for the Borg collective and also provide companionship for the Queen Borg.  There is also Seven Of Nine, the one thing that made Voyager watchable for me.  She's an ex-Borg, liberated from the collective after her assimilation as a child.  Watching her struggle with her newfound humanity made for compelling viewing, plus she had an amazing rack.  So with all these awesome elements in place, lets see who's writing it.  Ah, it's Brannon Braga.  Half of the showrunning team that destroyed Trek as a TV franchise. *sad trombone*

OK, no let's be positive.  Braga actually wrote some pretty good stories when he was on the Next Generation's writing staff, and also a story when Picard starting turning into a lemur.  But we do not speak of that episode (It's not quite as bad as the Voyager one where Janeway and Paris turned into newts. And had little newt babies together.  Even Braga demanded that be struck from the canon of Voyager and he wrote it!).  Braga was definitely in love with what the power of the internet compels me to call "timey wimey" plotlines.  And Hive is very much in the spirit of those early stories, relying as it does on time travel, alternate history and changing timelines.

A bit more detailed background first.  The baddies in this comicbook are The Borg, a collective of cyborgs who "assimilate" individual beings and slave them to a group mind.  In the acclaimed Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter "The Best Of Both Worlds", a Borg cube travelled Federation space and captured Picard, who was assimilated and given the name Locutus to act as a speaker for the Borg.  This was prior to the concept of there being a Borg queen, which was introduced in the film First Contact, which played up the idea that Picard was somehow special to the Borg Queen and someone who she would go out of her way to reassimilate.  The other major character in this comic is Seven of Nine, a character who appeared in Star Trek Voyager, who as I said, was a Borg rescued from the Collective, but who struggled with regaining her humanity as she had been assimilated as a child and life in the Collective had been all she knew.  Anyway, with that said, lets begin.
Locutus Of Borg
The comic kicks off with Locutus in the future - Borgification having rendered him immortal - and he's bored of "total dominance".

Locutus: "The collective has failed.  We pursued total assimilation of the galaxy.  We attained  the power to do this but lost the ability to ask why it was worth doing. And now we are without purpose.  Perfection has been attained. Perhaps individuality was perfection all along".

And it's this little bout of existential angst that drives the future, Locutus parts of the plot and resolves the Borg problem in the present.

Back in the present, Picard and Vash are on a relic hunt.  Vash being a character who appeared in a couple of ST:TNG episodes as a love interest for Picard.  A kind of roguish individual that contrasts with the more uptight Picard.  He asks her if they haven't done enough to make her rich.  And here's where I have something of a problem with the character of Vash.  The Federation is a neo-marxist paradise, where technology has allowed the workers to cast off their chains and pursue lives of leisurely self improvement.  Don't take my word for it.  In the ST:TNG film First Contact, Picard has this exchange with a woman from the past:

PICARD: The economics of the future are somewhat different. ...You see, money doesn't exist in the twenty-fourth century.

LILY: No money! That means you don't get paid.

PICARD: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. ...We work to better ourselves ...and the rest of humanity.

So, just why is Vash bothering to get rich?  And if she is dealing relics outside of the Federation, why the hell is Picard fine with that.  During The Next Generation, he was written as something of an amateur archeologist.  Surely he'd have more concerns over what Vash is getting a hold of and what unscrupulous people she's selling them on to when by all rights he should want them preserved.  Just why does he allow Vash to get away with it?
Picard is such a playah, yo.
Ah I see. Sexy funtime, that's why.  Let's move on.

Picard can sense the Borg coming and is recalled to the Enterprise.  Starfleet calls a meeting to discuss what to do about all the Borg chatter they are picking up.  Suddenly a Borg appears on a viewscreen and asks to speak to Loctus.  The space station they are on is also suddenly surrounded by Borg cubes, but they are not hostile.

Picard: This is different.  Look at the ships - they're damaged.  I can hear the collective.  They're afraid.

They address the Borg Queen who tells them there is a mutual threat they all face.  While travelling to parallel worlds, they met a race called the Voldranaii, rulers of a chaos dimension.  They were too alien to assimilate and followed the Borg back to this universe and are currently wiping the Borg out.  The Borg want a truce and send an ambassador - Seven Of Nine - who has rejoined the collective.
The Borg Queen
In the future, Picard has reconstructed Data from a copy of his mind the Borg has in storage.  He wants his help in killing the Borg Queen.  He specifically says he wants to change the past as well.  He flips a switch and blowqs up several Borg cubes to attract the Queen's attention.  The Queen sends her most powerful drone to fight him - Seven Of Nine.

Back, a few years prior to the present, Picard meets with Seven and asks her if she will go undercover in the collective, to find a way they can rip the Borg apart from the inside. She agrees.  This brings me to something that bugs me about the later Voyager depictions of Borgification as opposed to the Next Generation era version.  When Picard is de-Borged they spent a whole episode afterwards dealing with the emotional aftermath.  Picard actually breaks down and cries over the powerlessness he felt when it happened.  And the fact he retained some awareness of what he was being made to do means he wasn't even fully Borged. The language he uses makes the analogies to being a rape victim very clear, something that was reiterated in an early Seven Of Nine story during the period she was dealing with her de-Borging. 

Then the Voyager episode "Unimatrix Zero"comes along, where three of the crew get themselves assimilated deliberately.  Yes, they keep their individuality (just about), but the still have to suffer a massive physical assault on their bodies, which they just end up joking about.  It cheapens what Picard and Seven went through to make dealing with being borged so easy and I find it hard to believe that Seven would place herself back in that situation so readily, even if she keeps her individuality, she is still going to be party to whatever the Borg do in that time.  But, there we go. 
Seven of Nine
Anyway. the Borgified Seven in the present tells Picard that the Queen is telling the truth and that the Voldranaii are destroying the Borg, they are also on their way to Federation space so the threat is now on their doorstep.  On the Enterprise, Picard talks with a crewmember called Kira, whose brother was assimilated and who doesn't trust Seven.  The Federation ships and Borg cubes attack a Voldranaii ship and get it to lower their shields.  Worf leads a hazard team aboard and they get a scan of a Voldranaii, which reveals it's been constructed with Borg nanoprobes.  Picard realises they have been led into a Borg trap and the Queen activates a protocol that causes Seven to freeze up.  In the future, Picard and Data kill Seven, and in the present she screams as spider-like appendages burst out of her sides.
Spider Seven is go!
Seven transmits the fleet's prefix codes to the Borg and their shields are lowered.  The Enterprise goes into evasive manouvres.  Worf is the only one left alive on the "Voldranaii" ship.

Worf: "My men are dead sir.  Today is a good day to -"

Picard: "Stow it, we're beaming you back now"

Back on the Enterprise, Geordi manages to block the transmission that's affecting Seven Of Nine.  The Queen demands Picard rejoin them, "never" is his response, then he is knocked out as the Enterprise bridge takes a hit.

Five hundred years later, Locutus confronts the Borg Queen. 

Borg Queen: "You ruled an empire, and now you seek to destroy it?"

Locutus: "We have failed.  We are without purpose"

Borg Queen: "We are gods Locutus. The universe is ours."

Locutus demurs, and asks Data if he is ready as the Borg Queen attacks.

Back in the present, Picard comes to and is informed the Borg are swiftly taking over Federation planets.  They also realise that Seven was compromised and used as a triple agent.  Kira says she should be killed, and Seven agrees.  But Picard doesn't and leaves her under guard.  He then gets the Enterprise to set course for the Typhon Expanse, an area known for it's temporal anomalies.

In the future, Data, Locutus and the Queen are all fighting. Locutus is badly damaged, but with his last strength he rips off the Queen's head.  Then he directs Data to a "temporal displacement chamber" and as he dies, says it was good to see Data again. Data then uses the chamber to transport to the present day Enterprise.
Data transports to the past
We then get some insight into what it's like to be assimilated via Picards thoughts as it happens:

Picard: "As the implants conquer your body, it's your mind that suffers.  The voices of the collective are overwhelming.  Your sanity dwindles away. Until... The voices wash over you.  You are them and they are you.  And in that chorus, peace."

This this finishes with Picard kneeling in front of the Queen who welcomes him back to the collective.

Twenty-four hours before that, sees Borg Data arriving onboard the present day Enterprise.  He tells them that Locutus knewq from his memories that Picard would take them into the Typhon expanse and that this would allow Data to cross timelines. Locutus planted a weaponised virus inside his neural net that when unleashed on the collective will wipe them out.  Doctor Crusher points out this will mean the deaths of trillions of beings, but she is overruled.  The problem is, to deliver the virus direct to the Queen, Picard must become Locutus again.
The Queen and Picard
Picard goes and discusses the decision to unleash the virus with Seven Of Nine.  She agrees that it must be done as even he and her have not fully recovered from their time in the Collective.  They decide that Seven will come too and use the neuro-cortical filter to keep Picard's individuality alive. He and Seven and Borg Data beam aboard the Queen's ship and she starts to assimilate him, with Seven protecting his mind as it happens.  The virus uploads into her and kills her (somewhat anti-climatically) and starts spreading through the Collective.

Borg Data then paradoxes out of existence, while Seven starts seperating as many Borg from the collective as she can.  Kira freaks out and pulls a phaser on Riker, saying they shouldn't save any.  She manages to fire a torpedo at the Queen's cube before she is disarmed and sent to the brig.  Picard and Seven are beamed off the ship as it falls apart, but Seven is badly injured.

Picard:  "You did so much"

Seven: "I could have gotten more"

Picard: "There are thousands of people alive because of you"

Seven: "Captain, promise me"

Picard: "What Seven?"

Seven: "You will always live between...But promise me... you will aspire to live."

Picard: "I promise"

And Seven Of Nine dies.

Wait, what? No. No, no, no,nonono.. hold on.  Did the paragraph of "No's" in a Cerebus review.  And the extra long ellipses one in another Cerebus review. And the Picard facepalm in the same Cerebus review. Hrm...how to cogently express my surprised displeasure at this stupid turn of events?  Oh what the hell, stick with what you know.  Lolcats! I need you!

Thanks, my ginger, scottish-fold friend.  Seriously, you do not just kill off one of the Trek franchise's best and most popular characters like that or even at all.  Yes it's good she got to save some borged people before she died, but to die lying on a table is just lame (that said dying is only the second worst thing to happen to the character, falling in love with Chakotay being the worst).  And what's super weird and creepy about this plot twist, both having her die and then having her worshipped afterwards?  The writer Brannon Braga dated the actress who played Seven Of Nine while she was on the show.  So he makes her into his Mary Sue then kills her. OK, for someone reason the whole thing just feels icky and removing her from further comicbook Trekverse adventures feels mean-spirited no matter how noble her final sacrifice.  I don't know much about how canon works in the Star Trek comics as I don't really follow them, but if I did, I'd hope this was an "Elseworlds" type of story and Seven is still alive to snark another day in the main line of comics. Anyway, the story ends with the Borg survivors being given their own colony.

Picard: "They will never know their saviour.  Their benovelent queen. But she will continue to inspire them, to keep going. To keep living.  She inspires me everyday...after all, I am one of them."

Then Picard has the Enterprise set course for the Daystrom Institute where Data was conveniently away at.  And the final words are Picard echoing Locutus's words at the start; "I am alone with my thoughts."
Lalalalala! Didn't happen!
So overall, what do I think.  I'm not a huge fan of this story.  It's a typical Brannon Braga, fun with time travel plot that isn't particularly clever by his previous standards. There are some nice pieces of writing here and there.  What it feels like to be assimilated being a good insight into something the stories never really touched on in various Borg episodes.  However the virus plot was ripped wholesale from a fifth season ST:TNG episode "I, Borg."  Where the concept is given much more ethical weight than it is here. I guess you could claim that Future Locutus had enough time to think about it to decide to try it again, but a nod to that past episode might have be nice apart from Doctor Crushers identical objections.  What I did like was the bond that formed between Picard and Seven, enough so that he becomes one of the few people to call her by her real, human name "Annika".  The art by Joe Corroney is adequate.  Picard and Seven look right, but most of the rest of the crew, aren't brilliant.  And the female characters suffer from a bad case of Sameface syndrome.  The colouring is nice though and the space battle scenes decently rendered.  All-in-all I didn't much care for this story, it's derivative and plodding and hasn't really encouraged me to check out more of the Star Trek universe in comicbook form.


  1. Where to start? Maybe I should start with a Picard face-palm. Sorry, that comic sounds horrendous. Hackneyed, clichéd time-line shenanigans, stunt plotting in the death of 7 and BorgData, Picard sex scenes .... yuck.

    Out of curiosity, when does the "present" timeline take place? Is this post-Nemesis or just after First Contact?

    I'm not familiar with the IDW version of Star Trek comics. I've heard both good and bad --- Josh Marsfelder reviewed a couple of TOS issues over on his Vaka Rangi blog, with mixed results. I've not read any, but I get the impression that it's pretty disposable and shallow stuff. Which is shame. It seems like nobody knows how (or cares to) tell an interesting and original Trek story these days. Which is a shame because I love the Trek universe and (having nearly exhausted all of the episodes) want to continue playing there. I guess I'm just spoiled by Doctor Who. Even though Who is currently shit and I'm worn out on the old episodes, I have a bulging shelf full of great comics, novels, and audios to go to. Trek deserves that, too. All of the Trek novels I've read have been crap compared to the DW books. Voyager, especially, had such potential that could be mined in other media. Oh well.

    I've told you before, but I have a DVD-ROM with all of the Trek comics from the late 60s - late 90s. TOS, Movie Era, TNG, DS9, and VOY all have runs from the likes of Marvel, DC, Malibu, and Gold Key. You might be interested in taking a look at those. They're not perfect by any means, but there's some hidden gems, and they're at least done by imaginative writers/artists who don't give a toss about following any rules or established continuity, and just do whatever they feel like. Which is fun.

    This is a really great post and was a lot of fun to read. I agree with you that VOY's treatment of assimilation was tacky. I emphatically believe that Paris and Janeway's Lizard Sex is canon, and in fact the best thing to happen to Janeway until she turned into a middle-aged, overweight, Russian crime boss shanking bitches in prison.

    I just don't get sense that there's much passion or love in this comic or others like it. Star Trek deserves better.

  2. The timeline is somewhat fudged. It implies that Picard asks Seven to go undercover in the collective as soon as Voyager arrived back on Earth. But it also refers to Seven having gotten close to Data at somepoint. The events of Nemesis seem to be alluded to by Data being at the Daystrom Institute, but they make no direct reference to the B4 fiasco. Also Seven is undercover in the Collective for THREE YEARS! So, I tried to puzzle out when in the contnuity it was set and well, failed, because Brannon Braga hates me.

    You are right about the Lizard Sex, it was on telly, it HAS to be canon. Them's the rules :D

    You're quite right about the lack of passion in this comic. When I think back to the awesome strips that used to run in DWM (and I believe still do) I realise that I was lucky to be a comic nerd who liked Doctor Who as well. They seem to be done wqith real love. This feels like Braga hanging onto the franchise that has outgrown him for dear life, throwqing in one supposed fan pleasing element after another, resulting in a confusing mulch with fairly boring art to match. I'll definitely have to check out some collections of older strips, it would be nice to write about Trek more positively.

    Glad you enjoyed reading this, and thankyou for commenting :)