Tokyopop’s TV Science Fiction: Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Review by Ed Sizemore

These two books continue Tokyopop’s foray into television sci-fi. Both books are continuity-heavy and require the reader to come into the stories already emotionally invested in the characters and familiar with the series. In fact, the more detailed your knowledge of each show, the better off you will be understanding each story. One of the significant flaws in both books is that the historical relationship among the characters is never explained, so a lot of the emotional content and character motivation are missing. Neither book is accessible to someone unfamiliar with the series.

Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica

Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica cover
Battlestar Galactica:
Echoes of New Caprica
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Stories by Emily Salzfass, Richard Hatch, and Mike Wellman
Art by Chrissy Delk, Christopher Schons, and Anthony Wu
Tokyopop, $12.99 US

I may be one of the few fans of sci-fi who hasn’t seen any episodes of this series. There is no attempt to give an introduction to either the series or the major characters. It appears this book picks up where the television show ended, attempting to continue the storyline.

All three stories revolve around a failed attempt to end their quest for Earth and instead settle on the first habitable planet they find, named New Caprica. The Cylons come and seize rule of the colony. The first story, “Teacher’s Pet”, chronicles the last days of the colony before the humans overthrow the Cylon shackles and continue on their quest for Earth. “Shelf Life” deals with the aftermath of the failed colony and trying to restore proper order to the fleet. “Visitation” is about the experiences of Kara Thrace on New Caprica and their consequences.

This book made me question the appeal of the television series. I didn’t find any of the characters likable. I believe that Laura Roslin is meant to be the moral and spiritual center of the show, and at best, I found her tolerable. The human liberators in “Teacher’s Pet” are just as bloodthirsty and cruel as the Cylon overlords. “Shelf Life” made both revenge and forgiveness seem petty and wrong. Kara Thrace comes across as a self-centered thug in “Visitation”.

The problem with all three stories is that they’re attempting to convey epic events in a short story format. This means that a lot of the action takes place either before the story we’re reading or off-stage during the story. We’re told about the Cylon atrocities and the human betrayals, but we don’t see or experience them. It leaves the reader feeling disconnected from the characters and the tale itself.

For someone new to the series, I found this book completely unsatisfying. It made Battlestar Galactica come across as a bleak series that spends most of its time exploring our failures as humans without offering any hope that we can overcome our darker impulses. I have the series in my Netflix queue, and this book almost made me drop it. Only the strong recommendations of people whose opinion I trust kept it in the queue.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Manga

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Manga cover
Star Trek: The Next Generation:
The Manga
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Stories by David Gerrold, Diane Duane, Christine Boylan, and F.J. DeSanto
Art by E.J. Su, Chrissy Delk, Don Hudson, and Bettina Kurkoski
Tokyopop, $10.99 US

I’m a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and have seen almost every episode. So I could relate to the characters and the stories much better in this book.

David Gerrold’s “Changeling” is actually the only accessible story in these two books. However, to do that, Gerrold wrote a very generic story about a cadet/hero/magician/student who have to learn that they don’t know as much as they think they do. With a few minor scenery changes, this could have easily been a chapter from the Harry Potter books, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, or an ancient Greek hero coming-of-age story.

The stories in this book are better-written in general. The focus of each story is much smaller, and most of the action is kept on stage. The reader is better able to connect with the characters and their situations, but you still need to have prior knowledge of each character’s history and personality to fully understand what is going on and the motivations for specific actions. Without that insight, these come across as generic sci-fi tales.

I had forgotten how dialogue-intensive Star Trek: The Next Generation was as a show. Pages can get cluttered with word balloons trying to capture the feel of the television show. I’ve never been a fan of exposition-heavy comics. I find trying to read such tiny print tedious and tiring. All that dialogue kills the pacing of the story in comic form. Stories like “Sensation” and “Loyalty” would have worked better as novels instead of comics.

The Art

In both books, the art is atrocious. Characters are inconsistently rendered from page to page, and sometimes from panel to panel. Problems with anatomy and perspective abound in both books. I know these stories take place in space on starships, but these ships do have artificial gravity. You wouldn’t know that from the way characters stand and move. There is no feeling of weight to their bodies.

The ones to bear the greatest shame for the art are the editors and art directors who thought these pages were ready for publication. I question the competency of these people to hold their jobs given the slipshod quality of art. It looks like these books are the work of inexperienced artists called to do a rush job. Instead of nurturing new talent, it appears Tokyopop is exploiting it.

If I’m being a harsh critic, it’s because Tokyopop was once much better than this. Yes, I’m aware of their history of production problems. But while once hiring inexperienced translators and copy editors felt like growing pains, these books come across as death rattles.

These books aren’t worth either the cover price or the time it takes to read them. At best, they are good rough drafts that needed more editorial guidance to shape them into good stories. Tokyopop should be ashamed to put such poor quality books on the shelf. (Complimentary copies for this review was provided by the publisher.)

13 Comments

  1. Actually, it sounds like the BSG GN is set during the series’ “one year gap” when the season finale jumped forward a year. IIRC, that came at the series’ midpoint but is a good part to fill out.

    Your impression of the series does match what it could be at its worst, but overall most of the characters are supposed to have a mix of qualities and failings. Roslyn’s wisdom is often tempered by her stubbornness and you are supposed to question if the Cylons or the humans are the good guys (in the end, both have to realize they were wrong to keep perpetuating violence on each other). It sounds like the GN missed the nuances, which is what BSG is all about.

  2. As bad as the BSG GN may be, it’d be a shame if you let that color your expectations for the series itself. That’d be like blaming a child for not matching his/her parents’ standards. (OK, that happens all the time too, but it’s not really fair…)

    Battlestar Galactica is probably the most ambitious, important, and relevant science-fiction television since, I dunno, Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine. A poorly-executed licensed product shouldn’t cause you to lose faith in the source material. Honest.

    Keep it in your Netflix queue, please…

  3. I’ll throw in my 2 cents backing up what those others (and surely there will be more…) are saying about BSG. Don’t let it put you off the series. It’s worth your time although The Difficult Third Season does meander a bit. I’ll leave it to others less distracted at the moment to explain why.

    BTW, Alan Sepinwall (whom I think Johanna mentioned in another post a while back as an old friend) has been recapping each episode for some time now and the recaps are probably archived in his blog. Good stuff – always looked forward to his insights following the new episodes. I’m looking forward to re-watching the entire series – maybe this summer – and re-reading all the reviews after.

  4. No comment on BSG — I haven’t seen it — but yes, Alan & I shared a house when I was living in New Jersey. So strange for me now to see him referred to as an expert (which he certainly is) when I remember the guy eating cereal on the couch! His writing about television is excellent.

  5. [...] Ed Sizemore over at Comics Worth Reading had to suffer through two popular TV show adaptations to get these reviews. [...]

  6. Ed Sizemore

    Lyle, Thanks for correcting me on where the stories fit in the BSG timeline.

    Lyle, Tommy & Dave, BSG is still on my Netflix queue just a little further down now. I wanted to give myself some time away from this GN before watching it. Thankfully, other incredible books (which I’ll review shortly) helped to purge these two from my memory.

  7. “This book made me question the appeal of the television series. I didn’t find any of the characters likable.”

    Ed, speaking as someone who watched the show regualarly, you nailed it.

  8. [...] thought struck me after reading Ed’s Battlestar Galactica review … what are the best licensed [...]

  9. [...] Ed Sizemore takes a look at Tokyopop’s licensed manga based on TV sci-fi shows Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek at Comics Worth [...]

  10. I dont know, I tried watching battlestar but I just couldnt.

    On top of the fact that TP gives low page rates and late with the payment I dont expect for anyone really experienced to work on the book, or work hard on it.

    The arm on the ST cover makes me ache in pain

  11. C’mon, the B-star manga can’t be that bad. It’s a grimdark show, perhaps you came into it with the wrong expectations. Sort of like reading “The Bell Jar” and complaining that none of the characters were sympathetic?

  12. Ed Sizemore

    Well, the manga is available for purchase, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. Your mileage may vary.

    Haven’t read The Bell Jar. Did read Catcher in the Rye and didn’t like it or find the main character sympathetic. Maybe that will help you determine how close our tastes are.

  13. [...] were always trying new things — digital releases, print-on-demand, price experimentation, comics adapting sci-fi TV shows. On the one hand, that kept them limber and flexible, able to experiment; on the other, that gave [...]

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