Published on July 28th, 2014 | by Steven Roman
Review: Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay #1–2
It’s one of the most famous episodes of Classic Star Trek—so famous, in fact, that even people who aren’t Star Trek fans are familiar enough with its premise that they can say, “Oh, yeah! That’s the time travel one with Joan Collins, right?” It’s “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the award-winning episode penned by the now legendary Harlan Ellison, a multi-award-winning writer whose television credits include two of The Outer Limits’ most famous episodes (“Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”), and whose multitude of short stories include “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” “A Boy and His Dog,” and “Jefty is Five.”
Ellison has dabbled in comics in the past, occasionally adapting his own works for the four-color page—for example, ibooks, inc.’s A Boy and His Dog, with art by comics legend Richard Corben; and IDW’s Phoenix Without Ashes, based on his original teleplay for the low-budget 1970s series The Starlost. But as IDW editor-in-chief Chris Ryall explains in the liner notes at the end of issue #1, “The City on the Edge of Forever” has always remained elusive when it came to the possibility of adapting it—until now, that is, when you can see Ellison’s original vision in this five-issue adaptation of the work.
Written by brothers David and Scott Tipton (Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time), with painted interiors by J. K. Woodward (Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who), Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay #1 and #2 (ask for it by name!) immediately show us that Ellison’s take on Gene Roddenberry’s universe was a bit more complex than the peace-and-understanding message that Classic Trek often tried to convey in its three short seasons. For one thing, right on the first page of the first issue of this adaptation you’re introduced to an Enterprisecrewmember who’s a drug dealer!
It’s the sort of gray tone one would expect from Ellison, whose work generally leans toward explorations of humanity’s darker aspects. In retrospect, it makes you wonder just what Roddenberry thought he’d be getting when he commissioned a script from Ellison, and how he could have expressed any sort of surprise when it landed on his desk. You ain’t getting “Spock’s Brain” from Harlan Ellison.
It’s also a story that you can see was intended to be on a much grander scale than 1960s network television could afford—in the comic and the original script, the City on the Edge of Forever is an actual city, not the scattered ruins of a lost civilization that Kirk and Co. find on a Paramount studio set. Comic storytelling, of course, doesn’t have budgetary limitations, so Ellison finally gets the sort of ancient metropolis and statue-like Guardians of Forever he envisioned
As for the adaptation, although I wasn’t enamored of the writing on their Doctor Who projects, here the Tipton brothers do a fine job of translating Ellison’s script to the comic page. Woodward’s art, unfortunately, isn’t as enjoyable—for me, anyway. His painted style has always seemed hit-or-miss, as evidenced in the STNG/Doctor Who crossover. If he’s got photo reference to work from, he’s dead on target; in City, Kirk, Spock, and the other main cast members look as they should (although even they tend to shift off-register when Woodward doesn’t seem to have had the head shots he needed for certain angles). But if the character is original to this adaptation—as in the case of the drug-dealing Beckwith and the Guardians—the work looks unfinished, unless he’s basing someone on a photo. Which would explain why it appears a young Jack Black makes a one-panel cameo in issue 2.
Bottom line? Despite my complaints about the art, fans of Classic Trek and Ellison should definitely pick up this miniseries, or, if you’re a trade-waiter, the eventual collection. It’s a fascinating example of what-might-have-been, and a showcase for the sort of imaginative storytelling that made Ellison one of the grand masters of speculative fiction.
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay #1–2 (of 5)
Adaptation by Scott Tipton & David Tipton
Based on the teleplay by Harlan Ellison
Art by J. K. Woodward
Main cover art by Juan Ortiz
32 pages each • full-color
Issue #2 on sale now