Home / Comic Book Review: Star Trek – Assignment Earth by John Byrne

Comic Book Review: Star Trek – Assignment Earth by John Byrne

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I've written before about "continuity porn," that peculiar strain of graphic fiction in which a narrow sect of readers are served with stories and characters that are only familiar and comfortable to them. It's typically the province of shared superhero universes, where there are decades upon decades of arcane history from which to draw the most obscure elements possible.

Now Star Trek has its own continuity porn, and it's called Assignment Earth, a miniseries by writer/artist John Byrne from IDW Publishing.

That's not a slam; in fact, in a strange way, calling it "continuity porn" is a compliment. Of all the stories one could tell within the Star Trek universe, of all the stray bits of trivia and character and plot that could be plucked out and expanded upon to fill pages, a sequel to the original series episode "Assignment: Earth" seems the most impossible, and sheer impossibility is what makes good continuity porn so appealing.

The second season finale of the original Trek series from the late sixties, "Assignment: Earth" was what is known as a "back-door pilot," meaning that it introduced characters meant to occupy their own spin-off series. Gary Seven is a human from the 20th century who's spent time on another planet, where they've trained him to travel through time and help prevent Earth from undergoing complete destruction at the hands of nuclear bombs, the war in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon. (Thanks, Memory Alpha, for refreshing my memory…it's been years since I saw that episode.)

"Assignment: Earth" never became its own series…until over forty years later, when IDW resurrected the idea for a comic book miniseries. So just to be clear: This is a comic book "adaptation" of a television series that never existed, spun off from the original Star Trek.

That, my friends, is pure grade-Z continuity porn. Hot and bothersome.

Having said that, I found I enjoyed Star Trek: Assignment Earth more as an idea than in execution. The second issue of the miniseries was provided for review, and if this issue is any indication, maybe the series should have stayed as a Trekkie pipe dream.

It's not a bad comic necessarily; it just feels very pedestrian given the concept's potential for fun, upbeat sci-fi adventure in the Trek mold. This issue involves Gary Seven, his assistant Roberta, and his freaky cat Isis breaking into a military base to obtain some pictures of the Starship Enterprise that could pollute the timeline if they're seen by the people of the twentieth century. It's one of those tricks where the main characters are suddenly involved in the action of another story, but in the background; think Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, or to be more Trek-specific, the Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations."

This tale weaves itself into the classic Trek episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday," except there's not very much done with the episode's action. Instead, Gary and his posse creep around an army base, then get twisted up in some kind of temporal double-take, then Gary and Roberta go out to dinner. The whole time, we see lots of Kirk's behind and Spock's shoulder, but very little really happens. It's a disappointment.

The time-travel plot becomes another problem for the issue. I usually judge the effectiveness of a time-travel story by my ability to follow exactly what is happening; as soon as I get confused, I start to lose interest, and unless there's something else engaging going on, I may just check out entirely until the story's over.

That's what happened to me with this comic. At some point, I vacated the premises, coasting along on the dialogue and art until the issue was over. I know there were at one point two different Garys and Robertas, and I know by the end of the story, no one knew exactly what had happened within the story; unfortunately, I didn't really know either, and that's not what I think was intended.

Visually, I do like Byrne's style on this book; whether intended or not, his art manages to evoke the feel of a late-sixties TV show, if that makes any sense. The jaw lines are square; the clothing is crisp and clean; the action is staged in a very straightforward way with the occasional flourish in page layout. There's no question that Byrne's still a talented guy with a creative eye and the ability to churn out an entertaining book.

And that's the last big disappointment here–why isn't this comic more fun? Was this hopelessly hampered by the arcane approval process required by Paramount to release the material? Did Byrne just have an off day when he was cooking up the story? I'm interested in seeing more of the title, not because of this issue, but in spite of it. The premise still fascinates, and so I'd be likely to drop a few coins in the slot and let this particular continuity-porn stag film play again in the dingy two-bit video palace of my mind.

(That went to a weird place.)

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About Matt Springer