Saturday, February 18, 2012

Short SF Review #22: When Planets Collide

"Star Trek: When Planets Collide," author(s) unknown
Appeared in Gold Key's STAR TREK #6, December 1969

"There are our space bogies--and still on collision course! Mr. Spock... what if they should hit...?"
"At their estimated point of contact, the results would be catastrophic, Scotty! The shock waves upon impact alone would pitch many of the Alpho planets out of orbit... to burn in space!"

I know it should be obvious to everyone with even a whiff of familiarity with the subject matter, but it still bears repeating: if you're looking for actual science that makes sense, rather than buzzword particles invented by some writer because the plot needs to be resolved somehow and all that liquor isn't going to drink itself, you're not going to find it in Star Trek. While the franchise did act as a gateway for me and many others into the greater world of science fiction, the facile way in which it portrays scientific and physical phenomena can be stunting; it was only in the last couple of years that I began to understand and appreciate how spaceflight actually works.

Compared to comic books, Star Trek flowed from the pen of Carl Sagan. This is particularly true when the comic books in question are Star Trek comic books. Beginning in the late 1960s, shortly after the cancellation of the original series and tapping into the groundswell of Star Trek fandom that arose with the show's syndication, Gold Key Comics published more than sixty issues of licensed Star Trek comics - and in those pages that hid behind covers made of photo collages that rarely had any relationship to the story within, Star Trek's casual disregard for scientific rigor collided with the completely out-there, ridiculous, anything-goes stuff that comics have been, and continue to be, known for. I mean, I've been told that the Flash's costume is made out of pure speed. Speed isn't even a thing.

Nevertheless - Star Trek comics were made in the 1960s, and in part because they were crazy as hell they were, and remain, entertaining to some degree. Much of the rest of the entertainment value comes from the fact that they're so bad, they're good, in part because of the vast liberties taken by the comic writers and artists from Gene Roddenberry's source material. I mean, these are comics where the Enterprise is regularly depicted as a stereotypical rocketship with flame spewing from the warp nacelles, where Captain Kirk is given to exclamations like "great galloping galaxies" and "howling comets," and where the resolution of the very first story was of the Enterprise scouring a planet of life. Now that's the Starfleet way!

Those meteorites have punctured the bridge, and space air is leaking in! Goggles on, everyone! (Comic page TM & © 2008 CBS Studios. All rights reserved.)

Stardate 23:00.9 - the Enterprise is zooming around in the Alpho Galaxy when its "TV space scanner" picks up two planets on a collision course. I'm not sure what the writer of this particular story meant by "galaxy," whether it was just an issue of people back then tending not to distinguish between "galaxy" and "solar system" - roughly equivalent to not drawing a distinction between the neighborhood you live in and the continent you live on. (Not that it makes much sense either way. "Planets... in the galaxy and orbiting Alpho!" Spock says, incredulously.) For some reason that is not explored whatsoever, the collision of these planets wold be a Pretty Bad Thing and so the Enterprise blasts for the closer planet on full rocket thrust across the thousands of... *sigh* galaxy miles to investigate.

When I say "investigate," of course, I mean "blow up." Because that's how Kirk rolls, you know. Kirk and Spock and Mr. Scott beam down to the planet from a room that bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the transporter room shown in the television show, and are immediately attacked! The planet is inhabited, despite appearances - what a twist! Can Captain Kirk convince his captors that he's come to save them, not destroy them?

Do you really need to ask that? I mean, as I write this I'm not even finished reading the thing, and it's still plenty obvious. This is Captain James T. Kirk we're talking about. Therefore, anticipating the plots of Armageddon and Deep Impact thirty years in advance, Kirk and Spock and a few others who I can't tell who they're supposed to be because only Kirk and Spock bear any resemblance whatsoever to their actors beam down to the second planet and start melting mountains in order to place the atomic charges at just the right places to avert disaster.

But... as Spock says, in perhaps one of his most in-character moments ever, "Great Zounds!" The second planet is also inhabited! I bet you didn't see that one coming. I mean, what's a hamfisted adventure story without a wholly artificial conflict based on convenient coincidences, anyway? Not to worry! Spock knows about a supernova remnant that radiates "a repelling force of the tenth magnitude!" Can the Enterprise use this last chance to save the two inhabited worlds - when it's restricted to a speed of 110,000 miles per second while towing the fragment? Not bloody likely, but come on! These guys obviously know nothing about how space works. So just go with it!

Does it work? Honestly, I wouldn't have been totally surprised if it hadn't. This is, after all, a comic series where the first solution was genocide. Does the comic work? That depends on how you approach it. It barely hews to the source material, it's insulting to the intelligence, and the conflict is purely artificial, engineered to make things as "exciting" as possible and failing miserably. So, it's as good as an average episode of Voyager. Heyoooooo!

ANDREW'S RATING: 0.5/5. In general, these comics are best appreciated the same way that Joel, Mike, and the bots appreciated movies.

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