Thursday 17 December 2009

Time-travelling, violence and loads of profanity

Three publications with futuristic settings share the spotlight this week.

To begin, we look at Star Trek: Assignment Earth.

Written and illustrated by comic industry veteran John Byrne (Alpha Flight, Man of Steel, Spider-Man: Chapter One), Star Trek: Assignment Earth reprints the five part miniseries by the same name (May-September, 2008) which continued from where the 1968 Star Trek episode titled "Assignment: Earth" left off.

In the episode, Kirk and his crew time-travel to 1968 where they accidentally encounter what could be seen by modern viewers as a sort of "1960s American Dr. Who" named Gary Seven and his shape-shifting cat Isis. Before it ends, Mr. Seven's young secretary Roberta becomes his assistant and the Enterprise return to the future.

The episode had two functions: it was a normal episode and a pilot for a spin-off starring Steven, Roberta and Isis. The spin-off never materialized.

In the comic miniseries, Byrne continues the adventures of Seven, Roberta and Isis in a rather unique way. Instead of having the series focus on one story, each issue has its own stand-alone story. An interesting aspect of those stories is that there's a year's worth of continuity that takes place between each issue.

For example, the first issue takes place immediately after the events of the TV episode in 1968. The second issue occurs in 1969, etc...

The miniseries also shines some light on who exactly Seven's employers are and what really happened to the two agents that died in the car accident mentioned in the T.V. episode.

Although the Enterprise and its crew appear in the book, it's not about the Federation. That fact is what makes Star Trek: Assignment Earth very refreshing.

Thanks to cleaver writing, the protagonists cross paths with the Enterprise a second time. Although the encounter acts as the protagonists' second contact, the Enterprise crew did not yet meet them. These described actions take place during the events of the T.V. episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." (In that episode, the Enterprise time travels to the past but to a year later than 1968.)

In another story, Nixon died before the Watergate scandal. The public didn't know that because a look-a-like imposter who forgot that he wasn't really Nixon replaced him!

Star Trek: Assignment Earth is a very entertaining book and a paper-based breath of fresh Trekkie air.

The other two books this week do not, in the context of this column, explore unfamiliar territory. They are Tank Girl Two (Remastered) and Tank Girl: Skidmarks #1 (November 2009).

The two publications, both written by Tank Girl co-creator Alan Martin, deliver what readers should come to expect from the character: mostly violence and profanity in the near future.

As with other entries in Titan's "remastered" series, Tank Girl Two reprints older material from anthology magazines. The book covers stories printed in Deadline and Speak Easy between March 1990 and April 1993.

I was somewhat surprised to see how the stories in the book come across at times as more mature and reflective.

In its intro, Alan C. Martin wrote: "(the reader) will be able to see some subconscious parallels between our lives and stories..." That means that I really shouldn't be surprised if I see at least a little more maturity.

Tank Girl: Skidmarks #1 is the first issue of a new miniseries about Tank Girl participating in a race that's sort of like The Cannonball Run. A 2-D version of Dee Dee Ramone appears in a supporting role. The story was originally printed in the pages of 2000 AD Magazine. It's worth adding to a collection.

Star Trek: Assignment Earth: 8/10

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Tank Girl Two (Remastered): 6/10

Tank Girl: Skidmarks#1: 6.5/10

Publisher: Titan Books

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009

Friday 4 December 2009

Two Books Deal With Different Social Issues

Like it or not, we're all born into groups.

That fact is largely the focus of both books reviewed this week: Shortcomings and The Big Kahn.

The first one we look at, Shortcomings, written and illustrated by Adrian Tomine, is a reprint book collecting Optic Nerve#9-11.

Its protagonist is Ben Tanaka, a 30-year-old Japanese-American movie theatre manager in Berkeley, California. His girlfriend, Miko Hayashi, also Japanese-American, is involved with the local Asian-American cultural scene.

Their relationship appears to be headed off a cliff because they regularly argue. Miko continuously accuses him of being "ashamed to be Asian" and accuses him of cheating on her after seeing his new employee, a cute 22-year-old blond named Autumn.

One day, the heat goes up in their arguments when she finds porn DVDs in his desk. "The thing that kind of bothers me is that all the girls are white", she tells him.

Not long after that event, she moves to New York for a four-month internship at the Asian-American Independent Film Institute. Due to her departure, they inevitably take some time off from each other.

After a brief fling with a bisexual woman, Ben receives a telephone call from his best friend Alice, a Korean-American lesbian, while she's in New York visiting friends. She tells him to join her there because, as she puts it, there's something he has to see with his own two eyes.

Tomine's art and storytelling style are absolutely top-notch. He presents the characters in a realistic way to the point where all of them have noticeable personal problems and flaws. Adding to the realism, the dialogue between characters is as realistic as it can get in a graphic novel.

Via empathy for his characters, Tomine forces readers to ask themselves important questions. Of course, based on the story, as you may have guessed, most of those questions are related to race and sexuality. However, it does contain moments of humour, like when Ben is watching Autumn's band perform at a gig.

The second book this week is The Big Kahn.

Written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Nicolas Cinquegrani, The Big Kahn is about Rabbi David Kahn who is, once deceased, revealed by his brother to never have been Jewish in the first place.

It focuses on how such devastating news about the rabbi, along his death, affects his immediate family, which consists of his wife and three children.

Before the revelation of his faith, his eldest child, Avi, was to be his successor as a rabbi in their synagogue. Unfortunately, now some people with influence and power in that synagogue don't see it that way anymore because Avi's not "100 per cent Jewish".

He's not the only person being treated differently. His mother and brother are, too, in different ways. Oddly enough, his sister, the family's bar-hoping rebel, is becoming more spiritual.

The Big Kahn touches the fact that there are always snobs in all groups, including religions. As a result, there's always the chance of discrimination, too.

I don't know if the problems Avi had in the book would happen in real life but, really, so what if a Rabbi's parents weren't Jewish?

In brief, the book's visuals look good. Its overall message, despite a (spoiler alert) cliffhanger-style ending, appears to be too pro-religion/faith, especially when one of the characters is described on the back cover as "re-awakening".

Don't get me wrong: being religious can be okay except, in my opinion, it doesn't make much sense for the characters to be discriminated by the religious institution that they are members of and then continue to want to be affiliated with the organization.

Generally speaking, Shortcomings and The Big Kahn are still good books to trigger thoughts within the readers of their own lives.

Shortcomings: 8/10

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

The Big Kahn: 8/10

Publisher: NBM

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009