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Three Days in the Hospital… on the Final Frontier

by  in Comic News Comment
Three Days in the Hospital… on the Final Frontier

I jinxed us, clearly, when I grumped about August last week. Because September gave us quite a kick in the slats right out of the gate as well.

I didn’t get to see a lot of books or comics this week, or anything else much worth writing about, because my wife got clobbered with an infection so serious that we ended up in the ER and spent three days in the hospital. Julie’s health is always a little fragile– I won’t bore you with all the details, but her immune system is somewhat compromised and we have to be a little more careful about things than the average person. Even so, she still catches all sorts of bugs– Julie counsels at-risk street kids in juvenile rehab and I teach in public school, and the combination of those two professions means a level of exposure that’s the equivalent of serving on a plague ship, most of the time. We are getting almost fanatical about keeping our distance from strangers and using hand sanitizer, but stuff happens.

In this case she had an abrasion on her head that got horribly infected and the medical folks seemed baffled by it. So they ran a bunch of different tests and finally decided it was some kind of staph, and nothing would do but three days of broad-spectrum antibiotics through an IV drip. It was a bit like being in an episode of House, watching them consult and mutter and strategize, except everyone was bright and cheerful instead of dark and dysfunctional.

It’s a dreary thing, lying there and not able to move much because you can’t dislodge the IV in the arm or the compress bandage on the head. There was no TV in the treatment room– they decided to handle the whole thing in the ER. So I was at my wit’s end to think of things to divert her, especially since Julie occasionally gets depressed about being a medical burden, no matter how many times I tell her no one thinks of her that way. She’s been married to me for years, she knows all my stories and jokes and schticks, so I was really flailing for something to keep her mind off her injury and all the attendant brooding.

Knowing we’d be there for hours each day, I’d brought books. A couple of pulpy shoot-em-ups for me, and a big hardcover Star Trek collection from IDW for Julie.

Here is something you need to understand about my wife. I like Star Trek a lot, but Julie really loves it. Not to the point of joining a local fan organization or going in costume to a con or anything– she had to meet me to get an intro into that world at all– but we have a houseful of books and comics and DVDs that are Trek-related, and she is always up for something Star Trek. It’s why we drove hundreds of miles to Portland– twice– just to see Trek in the Park. (We only actually made it once, and you can see highlights of that show here.)

Additionally, though Julie is the more ardent Trekkie in our household, she doesn’t read compulsively the way I do, and for most of her life she was completely unaware of any sort of fan community except in the vaguest possible way. So a great many of the Star Trek books and comics and so on that I have accumulated for decades came as a delightful surprise to her; she had no idea such things existed.

So if anything could divert her, I figured, the new Star Trek arrival from Amazon could. And sure enough, when I pulled it out of the bag in the ER treatment room, she perked up. “What’s that?”

“It’s a new Trek hardcover comics collection, Stardate Collection Volume One. I had a chance to pick one up cheap and I thought you’d enjoy it.”

“What is it?”

“Well, it’s kind of an interesting idea. It’s from IDW, they’re the folks that have the license now, and their notion is to do this series of hardcovers collecting every Star Trek comic ever done, in chronological order. But not in order of the published comics– it’s by the internal chronology of the actual stories. So this one’s all about the early years of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike and Number One and young Spock.”

“What, there’s comics about that version too?”

“Honey, there’s comics about every version.”

In this particular case, the volume opens with John Byrne’s miniseries Crew, which chronicles the early career of Number One as played by Majel Barrett in “The Cage,” and then the first few issues of Marvel’s 1990s series Early Voyages, written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton with some amazing art from Patrick Zircher. In between is a one-off from James Patrick and Josep Beroy spotlighting Spock’s first mission on the Enterprise with Captain Pike. It’s a hefty hunk of comics.

I could tell the notion of a ‘historical’ Star Trek comic series intrigued her. “Do you want to look at it?” I asked her, slyly. Come on, you know you want to.

“No….” She sighed and closed her eyes. “I don’t think I could focus. My head hurts too much.”

Dammit. She was sounding bleak again. “I’ll read it to you,” I said, desperately.

And that’s what we did. Occasionally I’d hold the book up to show her a visual, but she said, “I can picture it. And hearing your voice is soothing.”

Amazingly, that worked out pretty well, especially with the Byrne stories. For a writer Julie is an ideal audience. If she’s interested, she gets completely sucked into a story; much more so than me, who always has one critical eye on things like plot mechanics and so on, no matter how much I try not to do that.

But in this case, the act of reading out loud, and occasionally describing things, served to get me more involved too. Bryne’s dialogue was very reminiscent of the cadence and delivery of what we saw on the original series, and I found myself falling into that kind of rhythm, and working at differentiating voices and so on. It ended up being a wonderful diversion for both of us.

I think I’ve already said in this space how much I enjoy John Byrne’s Star Trek stuff but he really outdid himself on Crew. It ran five issues but each issue was done-in-one, and Julie was utterly nerding out at all the little historical references and Easter eggs. The shakedown cruise of the Enterprise, the original Captain Robert April and his wife Dr. Sarah April (Julie remembered them from the old Filmation cartoon and was delighted at their inclusion)… the early “bi-corders” that were eventually replaced with the more newfangled “tricorders,” all of those things. It’s meticulously extrapolated from the original pilot episode “The Cage” and also a few other throwaway references throughout the original TV series.

And in case we missed any of those source references, editors Scott and David Tipton had included helpful end notes at the end of each story and Julie even loved hearing me read those. It’s a wonderful piece of reverse-engineered …retro-pastiche, I guess you’d call it.

I already mentioned that Byrne has a terrific ear for Star Trek-type dialogue, and the fact that he works on the edges of the continuity with characters that you don’t see much of — Gary Seven, Pike’s Number One, and so on– makes it feel like something fresh, rather than a reheated play-the-hits homage piece.

Julie was– dare I say it– transported. The second day, right after the nurse got the IV in and left, my bride said, “Let’s read more Captain Pike.”

And so we did. I have to say that Byrne’s Crew was the big hit but Julie also adored Early Voyages, which I already had a lot of at home in single issues, but she’d never seen them. For that matter, it had been so long since I’d had them out of the longboxes that it felt new to me too. They were even better than I remembered, and I remembered them as being pretty good. The first story, featuring Pike’s Enterprise being captured by an alien lifeform called the Ngultor, cleverly filled in a lot of backstory as Pike struggled with the alien’s mind-probe of his recent history.

“You miss a lot, not seeing the pictures,” I told her. “Zircher just killed it on this.” I held up an example.

Julie made a face. “Ew. That thing looks like… actually, it looks a lot like my head wound did before we got here. You can just read it to me.”

So I did. And as before, the retro-continuity stuff was a huge hit. Especially the introduction of the Klingons…

…And, especially, the REAL story of the Battle of Rigel Seven, which Julie remembered from the original TV episode “The Menagerie.”

You know, I occasionally hear stories of this type derided as ‘escapism,’ like that’s a perjorative. Well, as it happens, this week we were desperately in need of some escapism and this book was, shall we say, just what the doctor ordered. It’s a must-have for any Trek fan, and I think it’s an entertaining read even for those folks who are maybe not as steeped in Trekkie lore as we are.

We are home now and Julie’s feeling much better — three days on IV antibiotics pretty much blasted the infection into its component atoms, the head is healing over nicely, and she’s truly on the mend. I was grousing about having to come up with something for the column and my wife just glared at me.

“You have to tell everybody how awesome that Star Trek book is.”

And so I have. Seriously, I don’t think there’s another book in the house that would have entertained and diverted both of us as much as this one did, and I’m grateful. So a heartfelt thank you to John Byrne, James Patrick, Josep Beroy, Ian Edginton, Dan Abnett, Patrick Zircher, and everyone else that worked on these stories– and not least editors Scott and David Tipton for putting it all together in such a lovely edition.

See you next week.

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