Review: Wrath of Khan gets its comic-book adaptation 27 years late—here's why the wait was worth it

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

This week, IDW publishing starts publication of a three-part, bi-weekly comic-book adaptation of Star Trek II—The Wrath of Khan, with a script by Andy Schmidt and art by Chee Yang Ong ... 27 years after the advent of Khan, which would make the delay of the release of this adaptation 12 years longer than Khan's exile on Ceti Alpha Five.

As Wrath of Khan is considered the best Trek movie, having spread into common parlance the phrase "Kobayashi Maru" as a synonym for an unwinnable situation (the phrase has shown up in Dog Soldiers, Mission Hill, the 1998 U.S. remake of Godzilla and CSI, among other places), and as there was no comic-book adaptation back in '82, this move does fill a void.

IDW's PR states, "Somebody goofed up 25 years ago, and we're going to make it right!" As even the stinker Star Trek V got a DC Comics adaptation, IDW does seem to be balancing a karmic wrong with this adaptation.

Karmic wrong or no, the very nature of the adaptation might be a "no-win scenario." Wrath of Khan has gone beyond being just a great Trek movie; it's as iconic in some ways as any classic movie. You may as well ask, "Why not do a comic-book adaptation of Citizen Kane"? It seems a day late and a phaser short.

So, with no diss to scripter Schmidt, who has done some great work at Marvel, it goes without saying that the plot of Wrath of Khan kicks ass. Schmidt parses out the plot and streamlines it for a comic-book run of three issues of 21 pages each. And kudos for some judicious compressing and snipping of scenes, though it's a heartbreaker to see Spock's birthday-gift-to-Kirk scene cut.

Where this adaptation shines, or rather "broods," is in Chee's great art. Chee adds shadow and gloom in certain panels, lending a gravitas to a number of scenes in keeping with the war-weary, phaser-scarred epic that is Khan. Chee also adds some interesting, and very cinematic, flashes and flares coming from what would in the panels be light sources. It's almost as if Chee, as an artist, decided to be not just a penciler but a director of photography setting up alternates shots on the movie set. These are bold choices, and the panels in question look kinda bitchin'.

Chee also nails some creative uses of perspective and composition (especially when it comes to the use of foreground). In keeping with Schmidt's compression of the narrative, Chee positions the imagery of several iconic shots and even whole scenes into single panels, without them looking too cluttered. (Personally, I really dig one panel that "reshoots" some stock effects footage from Star Trek: The Motion Picture that was recycled for Khan, depicting Enterprise leaving dry dock.)

So, while it's a more than a quarter-century late, this Khan comic-book series is about as nice a belated gift as Trek geeks could hope for.