Some weeks ago I was having a twitter discussion about the best all time episode of any Star Trek franchise; because why else was the internet created other than as a means of facilitating these sorts of talks among like minded nerds? Without the benefit of a bracket and a few hours to sort through the various candidates, my knee jerk reaction was to pick a certain DS9 episode that I will discuss in a future post. Many of the others who were in on the discussion were staunch in their support for the Hugo award winning TNG episode “The Inner Light.”
For those who don’t recall “The Inner Light” is the episode where an alien probe inceptions Captain Picard. In less than half an hour, the probe allows Picard to live out thirty years during the final days of the planet Kataan. Therein Picard had a wife, children, grand children, and was able to craft a life that was otherwise incompatible with his career as a Starfleet officer. But what happened to Picard after he woke up from that dream? The Outer Light, a web comic drawn by Don Ellis Aguillo and written by Andre Duza and Morgan Gendel, the very same Morgan Gendel who penned “The Inner Light”, answers that question.
Where TNG only gave us rare glimpses into the inner workings of Picard’s psyche, The Outer Light explores Picard as a broken man. He’s still functional as a captain, but left to his own thoughts he longs for a life that never was. Where the TV series used the flute from Picard’s time as Kamin as an object of thoughtful nostalgia, this story shows it as a sort of self-flagellation. The flute is not a connection to the past, but an embodiment of a dream Picard will never have again. To put it another way, if you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed a bit of Battlestar Galactica’s character depth into TNG’s cast then you should waste no time before reading this comic.
Despite this particular take on Picard, which feels totally on point when we consider his mental breakdown after the battle of Wolf 359, The Outer Light is still a strong Trek story. The plot forces Picard to reconcile his past life issues while presenting a conflict that easily fits into established TNG canon circa season five.
The Trek aesthetic as crafted by Don Ellis Aguillo takes some liberties with how a reader might remember the series in the early 90s. Yet these subtle nuances prove quite pleasing to the eyes. There are hints of the Enterprise-E in Aguillo’s design of the Enterprise-D. His depiction of Starfleet uniforms borrow more from the jacket and pants model of late series DS9 than the form fitting pyjamas of TNG. Even the characters look somewhat distinct from the actors who played them on television. While I suspect this creative distance has something to do with avoiding lawsuits from Sir Patrick et al, it also allows Aguillo’s art to capture the essence of the characters without anchoring them to real world people. Case in point, a certain frame does not depict Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard smashing his quarters in a most undignified fashion. Rather the art lends itself to a range of character development that is independent of the preconceptions which come with the actor/character dichotomy.
The only real problem in this web comic’s presentation is the distinct lack of ‘next page’ and ‘previous page’ buttons in the design interface. Even though each episode is only five or six pages in length, the ability to turn the page without having to be cognisant of what page I am on would not go amiss.
As the “unofficial sequel to The Inner Light” this comic is absolutely first rate. The story is compelling. The art is distinct yet still very Trek, which is a testament not only to the artist’s obvious talent but the longevity of TNG’s overall look and feel. I don’t know that non-Trek fans will get much out of the story. It is very much dependent on a knowledge of “The Inner Light,” and the utterly stoic nature of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. For fans of the series, however, this is absolutely essential reading.
The first nine parts of The Outer Light are available for your viewing pleasure at Morgan’s Blog.