Thursday, 8 January 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Intelligence Gathering (#1-5)

"I thought we needed a bigger stick" - Worf

Teambook month continues with the ultimate TV science fiction team, the crew of the Enterprise NCC 1701-D. My previous experiences with IDW's Next Generation miniseries have not been positive ones, and I'll tell you right from the outset this is deeply crappy as well.  The one thing it has going for it is that it's shorter than the other two. Let's take a look at the back cover blurb to see what it's about. "What seems to be a series of unrelated missions is soon revealed to be part of a larger conspiracy involving a threat unlike any Picard has ever faced."  Hey wait a minute, that's the same plot as "The Space Between" and that pile of arse came before this.  How creatively bankrupt do you have to be to foist the exact same plot on readers a short while after you first did so?  Writers Scott and David Tipton and IDW,  I aim a "Feh" in your general direction.  Before we move on, a word about the art.  One the one hand David Messina's work has a pleasing, heavy black-lined chunkiness that appeals to me greatly, Picard and Riker are well drawn, Data looks good in some panels and off-model in others. On the other,  you can only tell who the female characters are by their uniforms and hairdo's.  The setting of this storyline is late season five, because that is the only time Ensign Ro and Chief O'Brian were serving on board at the same time and reference is made to the season five episode "Powerplay" as having happened recently.  Being the massive fucking nerd that I am, placing these comicbook adventures into the ST:TNG timeline is important to me.  Now let's look at the story itself.

It kicks off with Riker roleplaying a pilot in World War 2 on the holodeck.  Data appears and summons him to Picard's ready room and Picard tells them they are going to Daystrom One who are having problems with the artificial intelligence that runs their system.  As it is based on Data's positronic brain they want him to come along and help, especially as they think the A.I. has gained sentience.

At Daystrom One they tell Riker and Data that all the Federation's information is contained in a Tesseract, a four dimensional hypercube in which every planets information is represented by a seperate node. They want Data and Riker to travel inside it and either shut it down or repair it.

Data: "If the A.I. has indeed achieved sentience. I am unsure I would be simply willing to 'turn it off'"

The Commander of the project says that's why Riker is coming along, to ensure the orders are upheld. Using a pod, Riker and Data travel inside the Tesseract.  They are to follow the access corridor to a central AI. Things get a bit tense as Riker and Data debate shutting down the A.I. then suddenly a diamond shaped object appears in front of them.  When they probe it, it explodes.  When they try to go on their way, more objects appear in front of them.
Inside the technobabble, I mean tesseract.
Back on the Enterprise, Lieutenant Barclay shows LaForge a hidden subspace signal he's uncovered.  When Picard is told about it he wonders if this explains the problems with Daystrom One's computers.  Back in the Tesseract, the pod is being dragged along by a tractor beam to another ship like object in there. Riker has an idea, the send an electrical chare into the ships tractor beam generator when they get close enough and overload it and escape. Piloting their pod back to the Gateway to Daystrom One.

LaForge on the Enterprise has decoded the subspace transmissions, it's Romulans and they were after Data. They fire a volley of warning shots near where they have traced the emissions as coming from and reveal a Romulan ship.  Back in the Tesseract, the pod is being fired upon.

Riker: "This is ridiculous. How can we be under attack in a secure federation facility?"

They use their pod to smash into their attacker and disable them then they escape out of the Gateway and back to Daystrom One.  The Romulans close to the Enterprise scarper, while an armed Federation security team find Romulans inside the Tesseract.  The fleeing Romulans hail the Enterprise and confirm it was Data they were after.  Picard cuts him off and they go on their way.  Riker and Data have a converstaion later where Riker says he hopes Data doesn't blame him for being ready to shut down the A.I. no matter what the cost. Data says he has no feelings on the matter and that he knew Riker would follow orders. The chapter ends with Riker dubiously agreeing with him.
Those shifty Romulan buggers.
As a first chapter it's not a great slam, bam start to kick things off.  It has an insane amount of technobabble and the battles in the Tesseract are not particularly depicted all that clearly.  The debates between Riker and Data are pallid rehashes of those in the episode "The Measure Of A Man" where Riker was charged with disproving Data's sentience (he lost thankfully) although they do anticipate Data's actions in the sixth season episode "The Quality Of Life" where he was prepared to sacrifice his life to prove the sentience of some little robots.

The next chapter begins on an alien planet, some tatooed, sword wielding humanoids instigate a takeover of a dam being run by some bureaucratic aliens.  We then cut to the Enterprise where Data explains that the planet is Voltar VII.  A Federation colony under construction as a cooperative venture between the Rigelien's and Kaylar.  The Rigelien's are bureaucrats and the Kaylar are the workers.  If the conflict is not sorted out soon, the colony will not be completed on time and the Cardassians will intervene.  Which seems like an odd reason, but whatever.

Picard puts Worf in charge of the negociations, and he recuits Ensign Ro as a member of his Away Team. They beam to the headquarters of the Rigelien faction, their leader says the Kaylar want control of the facility because they built it.  He says the Kaylar were fairly compensated for their work and their actions are "unheard of".  The Kaylar have threatened to blow up the dam facility they have control of, so Worf's team decide to sneak in via the sewers to retake the dam by force as the Kaylar refuse to talk with Worf.
Their primary mission on reaching the inside of the dam is to disable the explosive devices that could destroy it.  They enter a control room but the Kaylar are ready for them and a phaser fight ensues.  One of the Away Team is wounded and Worf gets into a fist fight with one of the Kaylar.

Worf: "I will not let you destroy this damn!"

Kaylar: "What are you talking about?! We'd never destroy our own work!"

Then the Away Team returns to the Enterprise so the wounded member can be treated.  Worf is frustrated that the Rigeliens maybe lying to them and the Kaylar refuse to talk to him. Picard tells him to "follow his own sensibilities".  So Worf goes to talk to the head Rigelien and bluntly tells him that he feel he's been misled about the conflict and that the Federation doesn't like being made a fool of and they'll be going now and the Rigeliens can deal with the dispute themselves.  The Rigelien leader tells him that "surely an accord can be reached."

Worf say that they should go and meet the Kaylar ambassador now and enter into talks.  It turns out the problem was a contract renegociation.  Once aboard the Enterprise the two representatives begin talks overseen by Troi, while Worf leaves them too it.  He tells Riker his methods were not textbook but seem to suffice.  And so ends chapter two, a somewhat boring story that has nothing to do as far as I can see with the elements that link the rest of the chapters together and pay off in the final chapter of the book. Squabbling aliens, building a Federation colony, the whole thing hinging on a workers contract, it's like a dull season one episode and is the least interesting part of the collection by far.

Chapter three begins with the Enterprise arrving at Starbase 217 to drop off the Romulan sabateurs from Daystrom One and effect some repairs. The Romulans have given no clue as to how they managed to infiltrate Daystrom One.  A repair crew from the Starbase beams up and after repairs are carried out the Enterprise leaves.

They get a priority one distress call from the USS Jackson so they set course to rendezvous with the ship.  But when the arrive and hail it, the Captain has no clue the distress call was sent.  The Captain then says they are having a problem with their Chief Engineer who most likely sent it, so Picard, LaForge and O'Brien beam over to help deal with the matter.
Carll explains himself.
Picard goes to talk with Captain Travis, while LaForge and O'Brien go to talk with Chief Engineer Carll. Travis tells Picard that Carll is both difficult to work with and recently had begun reporting problems that aren't there. Carll tells LaForge and O'Brien that the systems on board the Jackson are badly out of date and while bringing things up to scratch he discovered a Mantleau Wave.  He sent the distress call because no one on the Jackson believed him about it.

A Mantleau Wave in the anti-matter stream only needs the right harmonic frequency to create a dissonance in the matter/anti-matter chamber and the warp core will explode. LaForge says that current engines were built specifically to avoid this problem, but Carll insists he saw one.  Picard, allows LaForge and O'Brien to stay and investigate.  After fiddling around with the engines, Carll manages to show the Mantleau Wave exists, but this time it starts to build and in seventeen minutes will cause the warp core to explode.

The crew of the Jackson begin to evacuate to the Enterprise while Carll, LaForge and O'Brien work to contain things.  They manage to track the wave to it's source and discover its actually being generated by a small device in a Jeffries tube.  Removing the device stops the Mantleau Wave, it seems the device was designed to fake the engine trouble when the ship got a certain distance from Starbase 215. 
The plot thickens.
Geordi and LaForge also report to Picard that they found the same type of device on the Enterprise, only it was designed to go off when they got close to Starbase 217.  The chapter ends with Picard pondering if they are being led somewhere.  This isn't a bad chapter, it's probably the best of a bad lot.  It's got insane amounts of technobabble in it but the mystery is set up and paid off satisfactorally within the confines of a single issue so I give it the thumbs up.

Chapter four begins with Data and Picard in Stellar Cartography pondering the sector they are seeming to be led to.  Then three ships appear, they are the goofy aliens called Pakleds from season two's "Samaritan Snare". Their weapons systems are somewhat advanced compared to the primitive state of the rest of their ship.  The Pakled's hail them and say they will destroy the Enterprise and sell it's remains to fund the glorious Pakled Empire. Which doesn't actually exist.
The Pakleds
They then attack and Troi makes one of her stunningly profound pronouncements that "something isn't right." She goes onto say the Pakleds are being mind-controlled.  The Pakleds then ram the Enterprise and blow up their ships in the process.  Data checks the plasma trail from their ship and finds the planet they were last on.  Picard tells Troi to assemble an Away Team and she takes Doctor Crusher and Ensign Ro along with her.  Wow, a female dominated team, including Beverly who is one of the most overlooked characters in these comics.  This should be awesome!

Down on the planet Ro kicks in a door and everything goes dark.  Then Troi, Crusher and Ro beam back to the Enterprise and Ro punches out O'Brien. Then the three of them walk emotionlessly through the ship punching everyone who tries to stop them.  Oh fucking amazing.  It would be the female led team that gets itself mind controlled.  Please do excuse me, I feel the need to go into the yard and do some primal screaming.  In the meantime do enjoy this image.

OK, back now. So hardy har, how funny to see slender Crusher and petite Troi beating up big blokes.  And if you have somehow forgotton this happened to Troi in "Powerplay" never fear, a crew member reminds us of those events. Sigh.  Anyway, the silly, weak minded women are bought under control by the manly MEN and down on the planet an Away Team of MEN discover it was a Ferenghi "Thought Maker" as seen in season one's "The Battle" causing all the havok.

Picard, Riker and Data discuss the coordinates Crusher entered when trying to fly the Enterprise from the battle bridge and they decide to go check it out, with Picard saying it's not a trap if they are expecting it.  And this sexist pile of garbage can go to hell.  It could have worked with any configuration of Away Team, but having it made up of just the females just because it'll look funny to see them smacking the blokes around is diabolically poor stuff.  Eh, one more chapter to go anyway.
Nice sweep there Troi.
They go to the coordinates and get a distress signal from the local leader of the planet.  Picard has an away team beam down and Data is abducted by two Romulans.  Picard says they expected this and planted a transponder in him to follow where he has been taken. They find where he is being held and beam down to discover he was taken by Tomalak, the Romulan they faced off against in the second season episde "Contagion".  Picking up where that episode left off, they have been looking for more Iconian gateways, which the comic doesn't bother to explain properly, but the Iconians were an ancient interstellar race that travelled by gateways between planets.

Turns out when the messed about with this gateway they found, hostile aliens came through when they caused a "rift".  They didn't have the knowhow to close the rift hence the ridiculous lengths they went to do abduct Data.  A huge alien breaks through and attacks and when hand phasers don't work, Worf uses the ones on board the shuttle they came down on. An alien then broadcasts to them that they intend to keep coming and eat and enslave everyone.
A somewhat unfriendly alien.
Picard: "Tomalak! This is your bloody mess.  How are we going to get out of it?"

Data figures out the rift can be closed from the other side and Tomalak volunteers one of his men for the task. He manages it although dies in the process and the rift and gateway are safely sealed.  Picard then voices what we've all been thinkin:

Picard: "Perhaps next time you might simply ask for assisstance?"

Riker: "What is it they say? 'Romulans fear disgrace more than dishonour'"

Tomalak: "At least one of you understands us."

And the comic abruptly ends, with all our questions answered.  Wait no it doesn't.  What the hell kind of plan was that, all simply to abuct Data?  They went through massive shennanigans with Daystrom One and the Thought Maker, when they could have aducted him at anytime (for example when they were planting the Mantleau Wave device on the Enterprise), which is eventually what they did!  Tomalak strikes me as the person who if you asked them to change a lightbulb would start off by designing and building a lightbulb factory first.  I literally have no more words left in me to descibe how monumentally convoluted this story turned out to be.  So lets finish up.
You're angry Picard, how do you think I feel?!
Putting aside the apocalyptically stupid framing plot, what do we have overall?  A collections of stories that don't have space to develop any kind of plot, and that rely on meta knowledge of the shows characters to understand their motivations.  It's packed with fanwanky references to many episodes that would be lost on a more casual reader, you could argue they aren't made for the casual reader, but what fans would like in a ST:TNG comic book is an extension of what was going on in the TV series not warmed over stereotypical leftovers.  And yes it's nice to see characters like Ensign Ro and Chief O'Brien getting some page time, but not at the expense once again of the perenianally underused Crusher and Troi.  I keep buying these Next Generation IDW comicbooks and I'm not sure why as everytime I end up depressed and wanting my money back.  Yet as a combination of two things I love - Star Trek and comics - I can't resist giving them just one more chance each time.  Surely the odds of finding a decent one must start to improve now?  Maybe? We'll see...


  1. Wow, Data is asked to murder someone who's practically his twin or his sister or something, and Riker tags along to force him to comply because Data feels that this action is ethically questionable. Flaming Nora.

    Empaths are like psychics but even more pathetic than bad stories make psychics out to be, because all they do is sense emotions, and most non-autistic people can do that anyway by reading facial expressions and stuff. All empaths are good for is winning at poker.

  2. Yes, it's a somewhat crass plot to involve Data like that, but the Federation did have a notable amount of trampling all over sentient artificial intelligences rights. They were still doing it when Voyager rolled round with holograms instead of androids.

    The crew of the Enterprise always had a regular poker game. I always thought the reason Riker got so good at poker was that he was playing against an empath, an android and a man who could read your body heat (LaForge). You'd have to be good to win against all that.

  3. I don't get it. I think I said that the last time you read one of these Trek comics. You've got a universe chock full of interesting/cool characters, aliens, locations, etc. and you can do is churn out TNG clichés? What's the point? I've got every season of TNG on Netflix ... If I'm going to read some Trek fiction, I want to see something different! Why not tell a real story? Why not push against and expand the limits of what's been done in other Trek media?

    Waste of time.

    In the meantime, you really should stop spending your money on crappy IDW comics and get this:

  4. I quite agree, the Trek novels for example have some wonderful stories amongst them and really delight in doing stuff you can't do without blowing the special effects budget for example as well as adding some great new characters to the Trekverse.

    I shall continue with the IDW range as one of them has to be good, they just have to be. But that DVD looks pretty sweet, I shall definitely make it a future purchase, cheers!