Wednesday, something amazing happened to me! I traveled through a vortex and went back in time; I saw events change before my eyes! It was astonishing! It was brilliant, and – breathtaking; all that I knew…was gone! By the time I came back to this time, this reality, I was slack-jawed and, I was bowing with awe, at what I had witnessed.
For 48 years, Gene Roddenberry’s ‘classic’ episode ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ has topped fan’s lists as their most-beloved show, time, and – time, again. Even today, if I asked you: “What’s your favorite episode of Star Trek?” – well…you’d probably list the above as your answer. But, what if I told you, that wasn’t how that iconic episode was supposed to play-out. What if everything you thought you knew, was wrong? We were ALL wrong, as Harlan Ellison, now, has the opportunity to set things right; showing us how this ‘classic’ was supposed to unfold.
First off, there are some things you should forget right-off-the-bat: there are no time ripples buffeting the Enterprise, there is no Cordrazine accident, there’s no Bones running off mad-as-a-hatter, there’s no Uhura and Scotty, and there’s no glorified, blinking (if-not, shrunken Utah Arch) speaking in a rumbling, Godlike, all-knowing voice. Forget it! It’s all in your mind… In The Original Teleplay, brought to us by IDW, there’s only one panel with Uhura, and only two with Dr McCoy; Scotty isn’t even seen! I’m not going to speculate, here, why Gene Roddenberry would’ve changed this story so-drastically, ’cause…hell, he’s gone, and it matters not; (but – I do have a few theories). What’s done, is done, though, right? Let it go…
Before we begin, some Star Trek history: Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay won the 1967 Hugo Award (for Best Dramatic Presentation) and the Writers Guild of America’s Award (for Most Outstanding Teleplay). We must thank Chris Ryall for bringing Harlan’s story to these pages. He has been nudging, both – the man, and CBS, since IDW took over the Star Trek mantle in 2007. Quiet persistence finally paid-off, last year, when both sides agreed; albeit, with a quiet understanding of letting the past be – just that. Enter Scott and David Tipton who co-wrote the epic IDW TNG/Doctor Who crossover ‘ASSIMILATION²,’ collaborating with Harlan Ellison, himself; and then, add the incomparable artist JK Woodward (of same), and you’ve got the makings of a beautiful story. For covers, Chris enlisted the help of Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper, who’ve rendered some amazing, if-not, totally-different work for this first issue; (with more to come).
So, here we go…
We start with a ship’s log, (not a ‘Captain’s Log,’ as we’re used to), conveying that the Enterprise’s chronometers are running backwards and the crew have followed radiation trails back to the source of this troubling mystery, at the rim of the galaxy. Also, the log reports that, while the crew has been checked-out stable, (two years, earlier), there are signs of stress amongst some of them, and trouble is brewing… We enter the quarters of Beckwith, a drug-dealing, bullying sleaze-ball-of-a-thug, tempting Lt. Lebeque with a highly-addictive, illegal, dream narcotic called ‘jewels of sound’; which, Lebeque has been taking for over a year. Beckwith is extorting the expensive drug, in exchange for info on the planet they’re investigating, as well as, a ticket planet-side on the landing party, so he can trade his drugs with the natives. Lebeque (desperate for his fix) accedes to Beckwith’s demands and takes the drug. (My God! JK has given us a mind-blowing panel [literally], of the effect the drug has on Lebeque! It’s absolutely incredible, I kid you, not! Add-in, the smug crossed-armed Beckwith in the background, and the detail of the helm’s control-board, and it’s a masterpiece of comic art!)
Mr. Spock is uncharacteristically raising his voice, trying to get Lebeque’s attention; as he’s about to blow the entire drive through his drug-addled negligence. Spock severely reprimands Lebeque, after the crisis is averted, sending him to sickbay. Lebeque, thoroughly-chastised, and – remorseful, stops by Beckwith’s quarters and informs him that he’s turning him into Captain Kirk. Beckwith picks up a heavy bookend and attacks Lebeque in the corridor; he bashes him in the back of the head (killing him..?). There are witnesses, so Beckwith takes off, coming across a phaser-rifle-toting redshirt, whom he overpowers and leaves unconscious/(dead..?); having attacked him in a similar fashion. Beckwith, then, enters the transporter room…
Having been alerted to these events, Kirk, Spock, Bones and Yeoman Rand arrive on the scene, where the redshirt was assaulted. Kirk orders Rand to open the jammed-door to the transporter room, only to find, yet-another injured crewman, and Beckwith gone. Kirk, seething, orders Spock to get an immediate landing party together to go after Beckwith. (Bones and Uhura are left aboard; Scotty has not even-been seen…)
Footprints in reddish-sand, under the light of a dying sun, greet Kirk’s landing-party (consisting of Spock, Rand and six redshirts), and Kirk wonders how they aren’t freezing, how they can breathe the atmosphere, that shouldn’t be, and – why Beckwith would choose to escape here. But, they follow Beckwith’s tracks (as well as, these mysteries) to a beautiful city in the high, jagged mountains: a ‘city on the edge of forever;’ where they encounter six giant, wizened, ancient beings: the ‘Guardians of Forever.’ (JK had this to say, to me: “The Guardians were taken directly from Harlan’s descriptions, which – I imagined, as a sort of Celtic faerie-folk, or elemental earth beings.” They are quite-impressive, to me, and they render that iconic talking arch, as obsolete. These beings put a whole new spin on this story; the gateway, now – becomes a brilliant vortex of time/space pulse-flows. Again, the story and the art are monumental in their scope and scale.)
So caught-up in the Guardians’ story, and the images of Earth’s past, playing-out before them, that the party forgets about Beckwith, who has been lurking in the shadows, listening to everything that has transpired. Knowing he can make his escape, he attacks Spock (clocking the Vulcan with a left hook, laying him out!), then he goes for Janice; (she elbows the brute in the stomach, though, and he releases her. Caught unawares by Beckwith’s sudden attack upon them, they are too late to stop the madman from hurling himself into the vortex… “He’s gone.” Those are Yeoman Rand’s last-words, as the stunned landing-party looks-on.
That’s where this stunning first-issue closes, leaving us open-jawed and dazed at its magnificence. Yes, many of you probably knew about Harlan’s original version; but, up-until the news of this IDW release, a few months, ago, I had no idea, that there was another version… (Gasp!) I am utterly-spellbound by it, though! So many questions, now, make sense, as Harlan and Tipton² bring this story to new light.
As with ‘ASSIMILATION²,’ JK Woodward has blown-me-away! His paintings bring this story to ‘life!’ I mean, I want you to go through these pages and see for yourself; the details, the likenesses of the crew, the majesty of those regal guardians, the images of Earth’s past..! I cannot sing his praises high enough! And, I cannot thank Chris Ryall enough, for bringing JK on-board, for this incredible project.
JK told me that Harlan called him at home, after seeing his work, to tell him how much it meant to him. “He went on to praise the work for 10 minutes. I wasn’t really expecting that from him.” JK told me in a FB message. He went on to say, “I was actually afraid to meet him, at first, but it turned out to be the greatest experience of my life. Everyone should know this about Harlan: he’s just as outspoken about that which he admires, as he is, with that which frustrates him.” I have it from JK, too, that there are characters coming-up in the next-issues, that he patterned likenesses after, and there will be some Harlan Ellison ‘easter eggs’ for folks to find: titles from Harlan’s stories, such as ‘Laugh Track,’ ‘Boy and His Dog,’ etc. I’ll keep you posted… I’ve attached a photo of the team that was taken at Blastoff Comics, plus a shot of me at Dragon’s Keep in Provo, Utah, picking up my first-issues of ‘City on the Edge of Forever,’ before I checked-into the FB page.
But, if YOU haven’t read this phenomenal opener, to this five-part graphic novel, you MUST get your hands on it. I have read it numerous times, now; and I have watched the episode, comparing the differences. I’m amazed and impressed. I can’t wait to see what’s coming up!
‘Til-then, I’ll see you, ‘out there…’
Lt. Eric Cone