City on the Edge of Forever represents outstanding writing and some of the most magnificent art, far exceeding the expectations of a graphic novel.  Originally this was reported to have been heavily edited for the original TV series by Gene Roddenberry.  Now IDW Publishing has taken the original script and reworked it into a graphic novel with an effort to retain the Harlan Ellison’s initial vision.  Illustrator JK Woodward sets the tone perfectly, its warm when it needs to be, and cold and unforgiving at other parts, while representing the characters in lifelike illustrations.  I’m not sure if he didn’t reference select film cells in the process.  In any case it was masterfully done.  And even if you’re not into Star Trek this is still a beautiful masterpiece of art

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Although I’d have to re-watch the original episode to note the differences, I can pick out a few things that Roddenberry would have wanted to take out or edit for the sake of what was acceptable back then, and for sake of his overall vision of the show (for better or worse… you be the judge).

In this version there seems to be more room for depth of character and interaction between Kirk and Spock.  Its difficult to compare the graphic novel to the TV show because the mediums themselves evoke a different set of emotions.  You can read more into a single frame painted on a piece of paper than can be shown  in a TV scene.  The more closely entertainment mimics real life the less believable it becomes.  Perhaps our brains need to work to bring things to life, and in this working it develops the imagination.  And it seems that our imaginations make a huge difference in perceived depth and emotion of a story.

In this story James Kirk is faced with the dilemma of saving the woman he loves at the expense of the Nazi winning WW2.  If he chooses to save Edith Keeler he would be directly responsible for destroying the world, via the sin of omission.  Should the one die for the sake of the many?  If you could go back to the past and interrupt the natural flow of events to save the one you love, knowing that the future of the world you know would be in jeopardy, millions would die. Or do you sacrifice the one to save the many?  Isn’t that what Spock would one day say in Star Trek 2, the Wrath of Khan?  “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, as he sacrificed himself for his friends and ship.

Its fine and dandy to sacrifice yourself, but how about when you sacrifice someone else?  When you boil it down this question is as old as civilization itself.  Whether it was a ritual sacrifice to appease some god, or sending the men out to war, it was all done with the intent, however misguided, of the overall good of society… that the one would die for the many.

Although I’m somewhat sure this was not Ellison’s intent, he echoes the statement by the high priest of Israel in the New Testament in John 11:50, when he said, Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

So theres a bit of a Christological element here,reflecting Yahweh allowing the son, Jesus, to die for us (ref. Isaiah Chapter 53).  That a good and holy God would make a sacrifice in himself to make salvation available for all would be the ultimate sacrifice.  Although that was probably not where Ellison wanted to go with this he paints a very good picture for philosophical and theological discussion, that is both relevant and exciting to think about on so many levels.