The City on the Edge of Forever

When people are asked what the best episode of the original Star Trek television series is, most folks will state The City On The Edge Of Forever as the best and for good reason. From open scene to sweeping finale, that episode was the best written episode on television. Originally written by renowned writer Harlan Ellison, the final script ended up being revised at the hands of writers that Gene Roddenberry approved making some changes to the story that Harlan wrote. Fans of Mr. Ellison will know that he does not take kindly to changes to his work. Like any writer, I am sure that if a change makes sense he would have no problem with it but some changes to the story were contrary to his original intent for the story. For years, the closest people came to seeing what Mr. Ellison’s version of the story would be came in the form of a put he put out in the mid-90’s. IDW Comics this past year released the trade paperback comic that adapts Harlan’s original script into comic form, the closest we will ever get to seeing how this story was supposed to look.   To start with, there aren’t too many changes between this version of the story and what aired on television. The biggest change off the bat cakes with the fact that contrary to the episode, where Dr. McCoy has an accidental overdose of a drug and heads to the planet where the Guardians of Forever are located, the story in the comic opens with two random crew members using drugs.

This is an interesting development. While I get why it never saw the light of day in the 60’s, one huge disappointment I have with Star Trek comes with Gene Roddenberry’s ridiculous vision of what he thinks the future will be. While I can get behind a vision of the future where we don’t have to deal with some of the nonsense we deal with today, I simply don’t buy a future where all personal strife is gone and things like humans using chemicals to alter their perception of reality is a thing of the past. Humans have always found ways to self mediate through the ages and if we ever do reach the stars, I would be shocked if we didn’t find some way to snort moon rocks in order to get high.

The crewman that was a drug deal ends up getting caught after he kills someone on the ship who was threatening to snitch him to the Captain. The drug dealing crewman is the one who heads to the planet and heads back into time. McCoy doesn’t make much of an appearance in the story.

That’s the biggest issue I had with this story. By having an unknown crewman be the one who travels back into time, you took out what essentially became the heart of the story. The only good thing this crew member did in the course of this comic was attempt to save Edith Keeler from the speeding truck that ended up killing her. I didn’t buy that a person who straight up killed someone just because he was going to be snitched up would think twice about a strange lady who, in the course of this comic, he only sees when she’s crossing the street with the truck barreling down on her. The only change I would have made would have been to include some scenes, similar to the original television show, that showed the crewman in question interacting with Edith Keeler so he would have a reason to save her. You may be saying ‘Why wouldn’t he just do the right thing and try to save someone no matter what?’ In real life, yeah, that happens all the time. You hear stories of folks that are otherwise the scummiest of people that end up doing something nice or even life saving for someone. It happens. But this is a story. You have to establish a character as someone who would go out of their way to save someone. You cannot have a whole story where this guy is straight up evil and then decide at the drop of a dime that he’s suddenly going to be good. Again, this is not saying that I think it was absolutely wrong for this character to save Edith Keeler, Harlan should have done more to establish that this is something the character would actually do. Something as simple as a scene or two with this character and Miss Keeler would have sufficed.

The other change comes with making Edith Keeler’s importance to history a lot more ambiguous. In the original episode Edith was responsible for preventing World War 2 from happening after she lived which altered the known timeline. She had to die in order for everything to be set right. Kirk and Spock end the episode by stating that she had the right idea for peace, just that it came at the wrong time.

By making her importance to history a little more ambiguous, you take out the pro war aspect of the original story which I think is a superior change. To have a show that tackled so much in terms of dealing with the woes of society have an episode like this that essentially supported war just cause is a dark spot on the franchise. Yeah, war can happen. People being people, they will always find ways to hurt each other. But making one woman who worked in a street mission responsible for preventing one of the deadliest wars in history just to showcase her importance was frankly not needed. The story more than set up her peace loving nature. There was no reason to detail what she specifically did in history. All that needed to be said was that she was important and that her death was needed to maintain the timeline.

When it comes to the art, I was not a fan of it. I did like, however, the inclusion of what can only be deemed an artists commentary at the end of the book. I have found that I have been able to get a better appreciation for some things I normally didn’t care for by simply finding out what inspired them to produce what they did. Take Tim Burton’s Batman. I hated the art direction for that movie. Just hated it. To me, it was just another chance for Tim Burton to be cute for his audience. Yet I ended up appreciating why he made the choices he did when he stated his idea for the art direction of the story was to make the sets appear like what a 1989 location would look like to someone born in the 1940’s. I may still think it looks like crap but understanding his reasoning for doing it makes me a little less annoyed.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read for Star Trek fans. While the story is not perfect, when you have a master wordsmith like Harlan Ellison finally getting a chance to show the world both with words and visually the idea he had for this episode, you have to support it. The gripes I had with this comic are purely subjective. Just because I didn’t care for them doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the wrong choices. I just didn’t like them and would have responded differently if I were writing the piece.

The artists commentary at the end is worth the price of admission alone. For an artist, it is a great way to see what went into the creation of the comic. For a non artist like myself, knowing what brought about some of the pieces of the comic gives me more understanding why they chose to do what they did. While I am a huge fan of the art, the artists commentary made me think twice about what I viewed. This is well worth a read.

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