Back in the days before most of us could afford a video recorder, and before there was such a thing as a DVD, a BluRay, or an MP4 file, there was no easy way to view a favorite TV show or movie between the times it was running on television. A few collectors could afford 16 MM film prints, but that was a very few. Star Trek fans had such a voracious hunger to experience and re-experience their favorite TV show that, in 1977, a company called Mandala Productions decided to cash in. They produced “Fotonovels”— composed of screen captures from Star Trek episodes, with dialogue and narration added comic-book style using boxes and word balloons. Bantam books published these monthly for one year, and I was all over them. Not only did they let me relive a TV show I couldn’t get enough of, they were also great photo reference. I was a budding artist in my teens, and later an illustrator for fanzines. Fotonovels were indispensible aids.
So when John Byrne of X-Men fame launched a series of new, larger format fotonovels a couple of years ago, I was immediately in for the long haul. Using photoshop technology and screen caps from the 79 original hours of Star Trek, Byrne has so far created 17 new Trek episodes in this nostalgic format.
Last year, to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, he created a fotonovel of an episode that was not included among the 12 released by Mandala Productions, and that omission was an odd one, consider both its popularity and the fact that it was the first episode of Star Trek ever written. I know the dialogue of “The Cage” almost by heart, and I put off reading Byrne’s adaptation until I was in the right mood to enjoy it.
And enjoy it I did. I did, in fact, catch nuances that I’d missed for 50 years in the televised episode. (Yes, “The Cage” was not actually released until 1986, but about 95 percent of its content was presented in the two-part episode “The Menagerie.”) Jose Tyler’s reactions when his Captain is kidnapped by Talosians, and the fact that he is the first to the top of the rise to save Pike, had escaped me. A good shot down the hall outside of Pike’s glass enclosure in the Talosian underground reveals the shadowy form of a second alien I’d never noticed before.
And seeing the dialogue in print allowed me to reflect on how good a lot of it was. I’ve grown jaded about Gene Roddenberry over the years. I’m sure many fans have. His political philosophy was, in the words of Next Gen producer Maurice Hurley “Wacky Doodle.” His treatment of women was not what I would call gentlemanly. Many of his colleagues, luminaries such as David Gerrold and DC Fontana, have indicated that he perhaps did not share credit well with those who helped him. All of that can eclipse in the mind of a long-time fan that fact that Roddenberry really was one hell of a TV writer, proven by many years of solid scripts before he made Star Trek. The almost lyrical quality of Pike and Boyce’s “Doctor / Bartender” exchange makes it one of my favorite moments in TV or film.
I recommend Byrne’s whole series.