WCO #238: LARP Trek
The great songwriter “Weird Al” Yankovic once wrote, “The only question I ever though was hard was ‘Do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?'” Also he wrote that he memorized Monty Python & The Holy Grail, and his quote were sure to have you rolling on the floor, laughing.
But back to Star Trek. It’s a heady question. One that has likely ruined friendships and spurred a pointless internet discussion or two. Kirk appeals to renegade adventurer types who crave action and diplomacy solved by bare chests and balled-up fists. Picard appeals to those who love class, civility, and French captains who inexplicably talk with a British accent. (Actually, there is a somewhat canon explanation for that last part… but it is beyond stupid and does not bear repeating.)
Webcomic creators seem to fall firmly in the Picard camp. There are parodies. Videos. Erotic adventures. Plus he’s Patrick Stewart, whose dulcet tones are far more seductive than William Shatner’s hamminess. Thus, the fondness for the OG baldheaded captain should come as no surprise. Many webcomic creators are in their 30’s and 40’s, and when they were kids The Next Generation was the jam. Maybe in a decade or so, there’s going to be a ton of Star Trek Enterprise references in webcomics… but don’t hold your breath on that one.
Ah, but what of the great Deep Space Nine? While not quite the pop culture juggernaut as the original series or the Next Generation, DS9 is nevertheless regarded by many Trek fans as the best Trek series. Well, Josh Millard didn’t forget, and DS9 features prominently in his webcomic LARP Trek.
The catch, though, is that it’s being retold by the Next Generation crew. LARP Trek begins somewhere in early Next Generation times. After some crucial damage to the Enterprise, the Holodecks — those deathtrap rooms that masquerade as recreational facilities — go off line. It a crisis of Brobdingnagian proportions, one more frightening than the pre-Hugh Borgs. Captain Picard can’t do his detective novels. Data can’t roleplay as Sherlock Holmes. Barclay can’t fake-romance his way through female crewmembers. It’s a mess.
Enter Georgi La Forge, who some of you may remember as the guy who wore the girl’s banana clip over his eyes. He is the Enterprise crew’s super-dork. He’s dug up an old Earth artifact: something called role-playing games! He proposes that, in the absence of a holodeck, the crew uses their imagination! They can create characters, roll dice, create characters, and rise to the challenge set forth by the dungeon master … Geordi himself!
Which… is not LARPing, really. Those holodeck adventures were closer to LARPing. I mean, why is this called LARP Trek? It doesn’t even rhyme. More like SAATRDRP (“Sitting At A Table Rollin’ Dice Role Play”) Trek, amirite guys? Yup, this is the old school stuff that a surprising number of webcomic creators like to write comics about.
And speaking of old school, check out the visuals in this comic. While many modern webcomics complicate things with cartooning and coloring and sumptuous visuals, Millard takes webcomics back to their roots with screen shot captures and MS Paint style flair. And I don’t mean MS Paint Adventures… I mean the actual software that’s free with your purchase of Windows. It’s rough and crude, but hey, that one stick figure webcomic is still going pretty strong, which is the surest sign that the art of illustration is overrated. It’s a weird feeling to experience nostalgia for this kind of crude copy-and-paste thing, yet here we are.
The game they’re playing is set in a remote region of Federation space. Geordi makes up a station he calls Deep Space Nine, where all sorts of crazy adventures happen. He starts everyone off by introducing a magical orb. What does it do? Does it… grant passage to a mystical celestial temple? Or perhaps it opens up a wormhole in space to a new unexplored region of space filled with exciting new made up alien species? Who knows! Well, Geordi for one, who spends nights crafting new scenarios for the crew to explore.
The crew creates bizarre parody characters of DS9 which are based on the parody versions of the TNG characters presented in this comic. Wait… that sounds a mite confusing. Basically the Enterprise crew act like simplified versions of themselves. Picard’s standoffish, Riker’s a horny ladies’ man, Wesley is super annoying… and the characters they pick are similarly simplified to complement the Enterprise crewmember playing them.
Picard creates Benjamin Sisko, a captain who, through his hatred of Picard, exposes the player’s various neuroses, as well as indulging in his tendency to make big speeches. Riker plays Bashir, DS9’s genteel and sometimes bland doctor. Since this is LARP Trek’s super-horny version of Riker, he similarly makes Bashir totally randy. He also tries his best to break the game, just to frustrate Geordi. Dr. Crusher plays Jadzia Dax. This is sort of an ill fit. There’s nothing in Crusher’s personality that bleeds into Dax’s grab bag of character traits. As a result Crusher/Dax gets sidelined for a lot of the stories. Deanna Troi as Quark works a lot better, and it’s surprising how easily one can imagine Quark’s dialogue spoken with Marina Sirtis’ unique British/Greek accent.
Data, who had initially settled on an emotionless shape-shifting character, decides to switch things up by handing that character to Wesley and instead play the hot-headed, very emotional former Bajoran resistance leader, Kira. This actually works really well. By having Data, a character defined by his rationality, play Kira, it reflects how many of her decisions were based on examining the facts then arriving at the best possible solution. There’s a strip where Data/Kira shoots Kai Opaka, who had just recently returned from the dead. Data rationalizes that this is simply his way of trying to determine the causes for Opaka’s return, something that the reader can easily imagine was going through Kira’s mind.
And Transporter Chief O’Brien and his girlfriend, Keiko, play each other. Because that’s not weird at all. Actually, these two provide pretty much the most insider references to DS9, as they’re the only ones to be recurring characters in both series. (Outside of Worf, that is. For now, he’s stuck role-playing as the Cardassian tailor, Garak.) O’Brien complains about how he’s totally useless as a botanist. Keiko snipes that O’Brien would be way more useful as a Chief Engineer than a lowly transporter chief. They have a healthy relationship, those two.
The comic seems to be following things chronologically from the DS9 episodes. This could be a little frustrating, especially if you’re the sort of person who might be interested in how this comic tackles, say, the Dominion War or the episodes when Worf joins the DS9 crew. Personally, I’m looking forward to the episode where Dr. Bashir and Garak pretend to be James Bond characters while on the holodeck. Oh, the juggling of identities — TNG roleplaying as DS9 roleplaying as James Bond types — does set me aquiver! Those look to be far down the road, sadly. However, the comic does move at a pretty good clip. Some of the stories warrant multi-part arcs, such as the premiere episode and the one where the crew is trapped inside a game, surprisingly. (I’m guessing this got the full length treatment because it fits an RPG-type scenario perfectly.) Others are dismissed quite swiftly. The second forgettable episode of DS9, “A Man Alone,” is dispensed of in the span of three strips.
As entertaining as LARP Trek is, I do feel that the comic stalls from time to time. The energy periodically flags as the novelty of a comic where the TNG crew roleplays the DS9 crew begins to wear off. I think Millard himself is aware of this, and he throws several non-RPG related elements into the story in an attempt to keep it fresh. Gravity goes on the fritz. Characters disappear in temporal anomalies in between strips. Some things work. Some things don’t. An entire strip done with all dialogue an no pictures, are interesting experiments but are a bit tiring to read. And the ones where Josh Millard shows up in his own comic really don’t work at all.
However, it’s worth it just to see what tricks Millard pulls just to keep the concept alive and interesting. The most recent strips as of this writing have Deanna’s mom, Lwaxana, dropping by on the Enterprise … just in time for her guest appearance on DS9. It’s a little exciting, since it’s regarded by many fans to be their favorite appearance of the character. Lwaxana appearances are generally hated on TNG because she can come off as abrasive, but DS9 was a character study that showed she was feeling old. LARP Trek is already building up that tension as Lwaxana immediately butts heads with her daughter, seeming more like her tired DS9 self than her oppressively cheerful TNG demeanor.
LARP Trek is not a comic for everyone. Heck, it’s not even a comic for all Trekkies, especially the ones who grew up with The Original Series of the JJ Abrams reboot. LARP Trek is a fun comic for a certain breed of Trekkie: the ones who obsessively watched the show during both the TNG and DS9 eras. It may be crude and a little clunky, but it does mine fresh new jokes from the era of the the 80’s Trek renaissance, which, as we’re finding out, is actually an incredibly fertile period to find Trek humor.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)