Star Trek’s history in comics has had both its hits and its misses. With two related stories, does The Modala Imperative hit with phasers on full power, miss, or both?
Since the late 1980s, some of the most celebrated events in Star Trek were crossovers between the original cast and that of The Next Generation. This started in the first episode of The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint Part 1”, which featured Admiral Leonard McCoy as a guest visiting the Enterprise–D, and continued prominently in “Unification” and “Relics”, as well as the film Star Trek: Generations. Novels and comics continued to feature further crossovers between the two series, which brings us to where we are today.
Star Trek: The Modala Imperative starts off like no comic I’ve ever read: it starts with Walter Koenig apologizing for being butthurt about The Next Generation. Koenig writes a long and involved introduction regarding why he felt defensive about a new Star Trek series, what excuses he used to attack it, and how he realized how foolish he was being and came to enjoy the series. While I can’t help but to wonder how he feels about the new films, for which his attacks of Next Generation are more valid than they ever were for TNG, this is a touching tale of personal growth which can’t help but to set the mood for the story to come.
Despite this story of unity, “Bones” McKoy and Spock are the true stars of this story. The reason for this is fairly simple: those are the only two characters who are confirmed as alive and available throughout the runs of both shows. Despite this, The Modala Imperative tends to play this fairly straight: these characters are the most involved because they’re in both legs of the story, but in each story the spotlight is shared equally among the main cast the same way it would be in an episode of Star Trek. The first part focuses on Chekov, Kirk, Scotty, Bones, Spock, Sulu, and even Transporter Chief Kyle, with moments set aside for Uhura and several other characters. The second part focuses even more equitably on Picard, Troi, Spock and Bones, as well as giving attention to Riker, Data and Worf.
Despite this, this is a story that would have been almost impossible in the original series. The first story is reminiscent of the episode “A Private Little War”: a potential Federation candidate’s fascist faction has been armed by a mysterious benefactor with advanced weaponry. Unfortunately, it is all that Kirk and Chekov (and their rescue team of Spock and McCoy) can do to get back off of the planet without breaking the Prime Directive, and the source of the weapons remains a mystery for another one hundred years. It’s not until a celebration for the 100th anniversary of Modala’s entry into the Federation that the suppliers of the weapons show their faces, and it’s not the Klingons: it’s the Ferengi!
Perhaps more interesting than the plot – which is good, but is standard episode fare – is the arc for the characters in question. This is Pavel Chekov’s first away mission, and he is dealing with issues ranging from nerves to hero worship of his Captain. Throughout the first four issues Scott, Sulu and Kirk all lend their hands to help Chekov develop, while McCoy, Kirk and Spock debate the wisdom of taking him along on this particular mission. The end result is a great story for Chekov in addition to a standard one for the more seasoned officers.
The second story is about aging. McCoy fears he might grow irrelevant, and he even implies that the existence of Data indicates that Spock himself is becoming outdated. Unfortunately, this leg of the story is hurt by the fact that Bones really is pretty pointless in a crisis at this point. At close to a century and a half, there is not much he can do to defend himself. He’s not needed for any medical situations, either; the most he does is to influence morale simply by being his abrasive self. Bones and Spock do bring up the age-old “Kirk vs Picard” debate, but they cop out by choosing “Spock” as the answer.
The first story is significantly better than the second. Not only does it focus entirely on its regular cast members of its own show, but it also provides character development for Chekov of the like that the character rarely gets (doubly so because it provides similar development for his actor). The second story, on the other hand, focuses more on guest stars Spock and McCoy, with nobody really developing in a way that they wouldn’t on the average episode. It’s not a bad story by any means, but it has no particular edge on the average episode other than the novelty of seeing Spock and McCoy together on the Enterprise-D (or possibly E), which loses some of its effect in trade, as the two are seen interacting for the first half of the book.
The end result is that I can easily recommend The Modalis Imperative to any Star Trek fan. There are better stories, but at the worst these stories are on the high end of average and there are definitely unique moments that make this worth reading. Fans of Pavel Chekov would really be doing themselves a disservice by staying away from this comic.