Thursday, August 20, 2015

Myriad Universes: The Return of Okona Volume 2

This run of issues is an interesting one, as to my knowledge it's the only example of a story arc being interrupted midway through. While issue 28 “The Remembered One” picks up the Return of Okona storyline from issues 25-7, the next issue “Honor Bound!”, has absolutely nothing to do with it. It also sucks and introduces a raft of difficult-to-ignore-even-for-me continuity errors, so we're not talking about it (perhaps not coincidentally, it's also not written by Michael Jan Friedman). Issues 30 and 31, however (“The Rift!” and “Kingdom of the Damned”, respectively), do continue this story arc and bring it to a fitting conclusion.

“The Remembered One” continues the subplot about Worf dealing with being a widower and absentee father introduced in the first half of this series. It's the anniversary of K'Heleyr's death and Worf isn't handling it especially well. Discussing the matter in ten forward with Guinan, Worf reveals that the source of his anxiety is the fact that he misses K'Heleyr and feels guilty about doing so, because she died a warrior's death, and thus an honourable one, and he should be happy for her instead. Of course, I'm not entirely certain how true that is since in “Reunion” K'Heleyr was actually murdered by Duras and I don't think Klingons consider murder honourable as it's not fair and equitable one-on-one combat. But I'm going to let that slide as anything that retcons even a little bit of “Reunion” out of existence is more than OK in my book. In this timeline of events, we'll say K'Heleyr died a warrior's death in honourable combat with Duras.

(In fact, with everything this story arc has been doing over the past few months, it may have just come up with a version of the Worf/K'Heleyr/Alexander story that actually *works*.)

What Guinan was going to remind Worf of, before she was interrupted by a pulsar exploding and freezing the crew's life energies in a state of suspended animation, was that he was still raised human and thus could still react to things with human emotions. So when an energy being feeds on the life force of the Enterprise crew to assume the visage of K'Heyler to learn about love and loss from Worf (individual members of her species, which live in the pulsar, are born, grow and die in only one day, but their experiences live on through a race memory), he's able to react to her in true Enterprise fashion by calling upon both the human and Klingon sides of his positionality. In particular, he's able to show the new K'Heleyr how her predecessor valued loyalty and sacrifice to others and would have been appalled at what she's doing now, consigning the Enterprise to burn up in the pulsar because the crew are rendered incapable of making the necessary course corrections.

This issue is also noteworthy for marking the comic book debut of Ro Laren: She's not much more than an extra here, but it's not her story after all and everyone else who's not Worf sits out two-thirds of this issue too. It's also interesting to look back at these books in the context of when they were being written: Michael Jan Friedman would have no way of knowing which of the “supporting” and “guest” characters the TV show was going to bring back to develop further, which has the happy side effect of putting, at least at this stage, people like Laren, Alexander, Jeremy Aster, Jenna D'Sora, Tess Allenby, and of course Captain Okona (and in the serials immediately following this one Sonya Gomez and Ardra) all pretty much on the same level.

As for Captain Okona himself, his only real contribution to “The Remembered One” is to freak out when he learns Beverly is Wesley's mother. You might think it odd for a serial supposedly entitled The Return of Okona to neglect him so much and it is certainly an indication this arc may be a bit misnamed, but the truth is Worf is frankly ever bit as important a character to this story. His capacity for decidedly un-Klingon reactions (or at least what he perceives as such) plays a major role in the last two parts of this story, following the weird and shitty filler story of issue 28 (for real, Okona isn't even in that one). In “The Rift” and “Kingdom of the Damned”, the Enterprise is responding to a distress signal from a space station that seems to be disappearing into a mysterious and unexplained rift in time and space. Commander Riker leads an away team to help evacuate the base, but is faced with a testy station commander who accuses him of not trying his hardest to ensure the safety of the scientists and personnel. This is compounded by the fact the rift is wreaking havoc with the Enterprise's transporter beams and is swallowing the station at an accelerated rate.

Will stays behind and orders Chief O'Brien to save him for last (putting others before himself, just as Worf told us K'Heleyr would have done), but before Miles can get him the station disappears into the rift. A grief-stricken Worf lashes out in a blind rage refusing to believe Will is gone, and does not react at *all* well to Okona, who is ready to lay the Commander to rest and move on. Your first instinct upon seeing Worf's behaviour is naturally to be taken aback, as you'd expect him to be happy for Commander Riker to have transcended into the Great Beyond (he told Data as much in “The Next Phase” when it was Geordi, though he didn't seem to much care about Laren-Data had to remind him about her), but remember this is coming in the wake of “The Remembered One”: Worf's human side is still getting over the loss of K'Heleyr one year prior, and now he's faced with the prospect of losing someone else whom he is incredibly close with. It's all become a bit much for him to handle on his own, and Captain Okona was unfortunately the wrong person for him to meet in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(This is, by the way, the one area I might pass some criticism of this story were I inclined to: Coming so soon after The Star Lost and the last few episodes of the TV series, these themes of dealing with loss and moving on, while important and needed ones, are becoming somewhat exhausting for me. I could certainly stand to see some lighter fare at this point.) 

Will is still alive, as it happens. He finds out that the rift is a gateway to a different realm of space time where life as we know it can't exist, though it can, apparently adapt: He meets a group of beings who had fallen into the rift over the years and had their entire physiologies changed as result. They have become, in effect ghosts: Impermeable, immortal phantasms doomed to haunt this part of the universe for eternity. They hover over him constantly, always goading him to give up and accept being consigned to oblivion, claiming they were like him once and if they couldn't find a way out there must not be one. Most cuttingly, they insist his friends on the Enterprise will eventually give up on him. The artwork also conveys the mood really well: Everything is delightfully misty, warped and obscure, and you can't tell where the characters end and the scenery begins. I would make more of a deal of the Otherworld trappings in this story except they're not as fleshed out in the way I typically like them...These are fairly straightforwardly ghosts in the Dickensian/“Catspaw” sense and there's not a ton more erudition to glean in regards to faeryland wonderfulness here.

But that's not to say the story is devoid of erudition entirely.

“Kingdom of the Damned” was far from the first Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book I got or read, but it was the first one I got after the series had ended, which means it was the first one I got as a collector's item. I remember my parents finding it for me at the local flea market one year during one of our summer trips to Cape Cod, and as such it was another signifier to me of my interest in Star Trek shifting from being part of a present moment to a nostalgia-fueled, backwards-facing exercise in self-reflection. By its very nature as an old, out-of-print comic book it drove home the fact that the world had moved on from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and yet I, in at least some sense, hadn't. Ghosts indeed.

Speaking of, I remember this being the first time in awhile I was genuinely creeped out and unsettled by Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I remember...remembering how nice that actually felt. For too long had I been pouring over dry and monotonous reference books written by obsessive fans compelled to categorize things: *This* is what this series was supposed to do. It may not be the best example of Star Trek: The Next Generation just totally fucking over your brain in a good way, but you can at least see how this comes from the same show that gave us “Frame of Mind”, “Schisms”, “Phantasms”, “Masks”, “Dark Page”, “Eye of the Beholder” and “Emergence”.

But the ghost stuff serves a purpose above and beyond just providing us with some nice lite psychological horror. The interesting thing is, the only other person expressing comparable sentiments to these “demons of self-doubt” is Captain Okona, albeit far more politely and sympathetically. And here's where the genuine critique of him and his character comes back, and where the story really plays its ace about contrasting him with Commander Riker. Both Okona and the Enterprise are functionally nomads in both spirit and materialistic living conditions, bound to no one place whose calling is to travel the universe. But Okona being a romantic “lone gun” rogue pulp hero is a fundamentally different way of conceptualizing that kind of worldview, and a fundamentally selfish one.

Okona is ready to pay his respects to Commander Riker and give him up for dead as soon as he disappears into the rift, and while, yes, it is healthy to be able to move beyond relationships and accept that people will always come into and out of your lives, Okona is taking it to a dangerous extreme. He's not displaying a healthy approach to moving on, what he's actually doing is not giving anyone a chance to stay in his life long enough to make an important impression on it to begin with. It's the same kind of wildly reductivitst approach to self-reliance and individuality that led him to distrust everyone in the first half of this miniseries, and the story is saying this is what marks him as an outdated character archetype and an irresponsible traveller. Because someone who understood the true meaning of voyaging would know that every person, place and thing you meet leaves its mark on you, and a part of their energy remains with yours from then on.

(To bring it back to the other major subplot of this story, Worf has to work through moving beyond K'Heleyr in his own way while Captain Okona has to learn to allow himself to be more open and vulnerable.)

But Okona has now been travelling with the Enterprise for some time now, and, like it or not, they're beginning to rub off on him as well. So when he tells us that he in some ways looked up to Commander Riker and says that if he ever considered “settling down” (or what he considers settling down) the Enterprise would be the kind of community he'd like to be a part of and Will would be the sort of person he'd strive to be, we believe it. Here it's not just divine idealism in terms of individual characters we're considering, but utopianism in narrative storytelling: Okona, like many other visitors to the starship Enterprise, represents a kind of storytelling (and really, beavioural worldview) Star Trek: The Next Generation claims has become demode. But instead of railing against it, the series instead extends its hand and tries to work with it through searching for common ground. As much as Star Trek: The Next Generation is deliberately setting itself apart from Captain Okona here, it *is* also looking for comparisons as much as contrast. And so Okona's friendly warning to Commander Riker at the end to always be worthy of his crewmates' loyalty to him still takes and bears merit.

It's stagnation and complacency that will doom us more surely than anything else. There's always so much to learn and experience no matter how old or how young you are.


  1. Ooh, I like that. And it's at the root of a lot of the more recent Season 4 and Season 5 discussions, too. The nature of "Compare & Contrast", and how important that ampersand in there is. It's not "Compare OR Contrast", after all.

    Comparing & Contrasting is an integral part of creating a holistic and greater whole.

  2. "It's stagnation and complacency that will doom us more surely than anything else. There's always so much to learn and experience no matter how old or how young you are."

    Absolutely agreed Josh. This is pretty much my mantra that I try to live by.