The City on the Edge of Forever is often described as the best episode of the original series of Star Trek, and it’s hard to argue against that. The script, written by Sci-Fi legend Harlan Ellison, won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1968, and also the Writer’s Guild of America award of the same name. That those awards were actually for different scripts is where the comic book adaptation comes in (here is some background). As you can see, Ellison – never one to stay calm in the face of even imagined slights – famously criticized the edits done by Trek’s writers to his story, a “fatally inept treatment”. I remember discovering this after seeing Ellison doing his best ‘Andy Rooney of Sci-Fi’ in remarks on the old Sci-Fi Buzz show on the Sci-Fi channel, and being curious about what his story was like.
I no longer have to wonder, as IDW has published a faithful adaptation of one of Ellison’s drafts of the script. (spoilers possible from here) Many of the story beats are the same – Kirk and Spock must travel back to fix the timeline after a crewman screws it up – but the devil is in the details. Here, a drug-dealing crewmember is the one who mucks things up, something that probably wouldn’t have flown with Roddenberry’s vision of the future. His treatment also dealt more with the racism of the time, which was present but toned down in the TV episode. Gone, also, on TV was the fact that the Enterprise changed after the crewman escaped to the past. Ellison’s script actually has a rather badass picture of Yeoman Rand standing with the redshirts on this other ship in the changed timeline, phaser-blasting and elbow-dropping dudes to buy Spock and Kirk time to beam back down to the Guardian of Forever.
But the most intriguing change is to the end, with what happens to Edith Keeler. In this story, the crewman (this vile drug-dealing killer) attempts to save Edith from the truck while Kirk stands dumbfounded. Spock knocks the crewman away, and Edith dies as she is meant to. It provides a bit for Spock and Kirk to ponder at the end, debating how good and evil can come from the same place.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Scott and David Tipton ably adapted the story, and the JK Woodward art comes across as a series of paintings, expertly capturing the actors in their youth. I could’ve used some smoother transitions from scene to scene or panel, but it does the job well. Of course, this version would’ve been impossible to film at the time it was written. Too long to film, too much stuff to make. But hey, now you can see the story as Ellison meant it.
Thanks again to NetGalley for the early review copy. Pre-order your own trade at Amazon. Or check on the individual issues at your local comic shop.