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STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION - THE KILLING SHADOWS

Captain Picard takes on deadly interstellar ninjas, and the mystery of the Void.

By Matthew F. Saunders     September 13, 2000

Outer space holds many wonders and mysteries. The final frontier to numerous poets, scientists and explorers, it boasts fascinating interstellar phenomenon to eulogize and research, and many strange new worlds and civilizations to explore. But if you don't tread carefully, it also hides more than a few deadly threats, threats just waiting to destroy all one holds dear.

Earth and a young Federation discovered that the hard way in its early days when it suffered disastrous first contacts with the Romulan and Klingon empires. More than a century later, the Borg proved it yet again when the omnipotent Q hurled the Enterprise-D into the first of many deadly confrontations with the unyielding cybernetic race. The Gamma Quadrant's Dominion drove the point home shortly thereafter when it instigated a bitter, grueling war with the Federation and much of the Alpha Quadrant. And if writer Scott Ciencin has his way, that was only the beginning.

In WildStorm's latest Star Trek mini-series, Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Killing Shadows, which is set after the events of Star Trek: First Contact, Ciencin and artists Andrew Currie and Bryan Hitch introduce the menace of the Bodai Shin. A sort of interstellar corps of ninjas, the Bodai Shin emerge from the shadows of intergalactic myth and legend to threaten the Federation, destroying outposts, killing key scientists, and challenging Captain Picard and the Enterprise-E crew. 'I would love to see the Bodai Shin take a place beside other major threats in the Star Trek universe such as the Borg and the Dominion,' says Ciencin. 'I see the potential for stories [with them] as bold and sweeping as those told in the Dominion War.'

Out of the Darkness

Before the Bodai Shin stepped forward as the latest scourge to test Starfleet's mettle, stories circulated for years of these mysterious, deadly warriors. As legend has it, they're a single alien race that can phase shift, transform their appearance and turn any object into a weapon. They wield technology that appears to be far more advanced than anything the Federation possesses. And they operate in the shadows, never striking in crowded or open areas, casting serious doubts about their very existence. That is, until now.

As Killing Shadows begins, that methodology seems to be changing--and their existence becomes irrefutable--when the Bodai Shin's attacks become more overt. In fact, the series opens with a brutal attack on a Federation science facility, the latest in a rash of assassinations of Starfleet's top scientists. 'Until now, the Federation had no empirical evidence of the Bodai Shin's existence,' says Ciencin. 'In this story, they get that evidence [and have] reason to believe that the next target is a scientist named Dr. Noguri, who is sequestered on a remote planet called Nydaris, a world in which one side of the planet is in perpetual darkness, the other unyielding light.'

Based on the pattern of the attacks, the Federation also believes that the Bodai Shin are trying to limit humanity's ability to advance technologically, explaining in part why they're suddenly targeting key projects and researchers for termination. Dr. Noguri is at risk because he's developing experimental technology that could considerably enhance transporter capabilities, allowing Starfleet the potential to evacuate entire cities--or even worlds--at once.

'Precisely why the Bodai Shin would want [to target all this technology] is not known at the outset,' explains Ciencin. '[But] as Noguri is the only one who understands these ideas, taking him out of the equation would seemingly further their goal. The Enterprise is the vessel closest to Nydaris, so Picard and his crew are dispatched to take Dr. Noguri off-world to a more secure location. But Dr. Noguri has other ideas.'

Those other ideas include hiding in open view, as well as proving without a doubt that the Bodai Shin really exist, despite the personal risk. 'Noguri's hobby is the study of urban myths and legends across the universe,' continues Ciencin. 'As such, he's heard the stories of the Bodai Shin and has connected them to the ninja of ancient Earth. He believes they only strike from the shadows, when a victim is alone or isolated from large groups. His plan is to stay in the open, amidst crowds, as much as possible, because he feels the Bodai Shin won't reveal themselves if too many witnesses are around. He doesn't consider the Enterprise to be safe.'

Safe or not, why the Bodai Shin choose to reveal themselves now, and actively take on the Federation in particular, is one of the series' central mysteries. 'That fuels the first issue,' says Ciencin. 'All I can say is that with this story, in all four issues, nothing is entirely what it seems. It's a cat-and-mouse game from start to finish, with several twists and reversals.'

Key among those 'twists and turns' is the fact that the Bodai Shin are actually emissaries of a far greater threat known only as the Void. Already careful not to reveal too much about the Bodai Shin, Ciencin is even more coy when it comes to explaining exactly who or what the Void is. Whether it's a person, race, entity or empire, Ciencin hints that the answer lies in the ninja lore that serves as a basis for the Bodai Shin.

'All of those possibilities exist, and the answers are revealed in issue #4,' he teases. 'I will say that the ninja believed there were five elements--Earth, wind, fire, water and the void--and that mastery of the void, coming to peace with nothingness, gave them incredible power. That was my starting point for the creation of the Void. It's more than a belief system in this story.'

A Test of Beliefs

The Void's origin aside, belief systems are actually key to the entire story. They provided Ciencin with the opportunity to explore the TNG characters and what they believe in, while still working within the constraints established by Paramount. As with most licensed properties, novel and comic stories must maintain the characters' status quo, making the task of telling relevant, character-changing stories difficult to impossible. As a result, Ciencin says he approached the mini-series as if he were writing a TNG feature film along the lines of Star Trek: First Contact.

'For me, First Contact offers terrific action, a great enemy to really test Picard and company on several levels, and meaningful themes,' explains Ciencin. 'That's what Andrew and I are aspiring to--everyone's beliefs are challenged and defined in this story arc. Killing Shadows goes to the core beliefs of each of the characters, exploring how far each will go in service of those beliefs. Some of the characters begin the story thinking their primary belief system is one thing, and discover through the course of events that it's something else entirely.'

To that end, Ciencin says he's attempted to give each of the TNG cast his/her time in the spotlight. He gives particular emphasis to Data, who continues to serve as a prism for understanding and viewing the human condition. 'Data is, in some scenes, the audience identifier for introducing the themes that are being explored, as he delves deeply into the importance of beliefs and the human condition,' says Ciencin. 'Data's belief is in humanity. He cherishes life. The Bodai Shin appear to be his opposite number in this regard. In the course of the story, Data witnesses things that shake his beliefs to the core and force him to make many difficult, almost impossible choices.'

The theme of beliefs isn't limited to just the story itself. Ciencin's also taken the opportunity to challenge fans' perceptions about some of the TNG characters, especially when the usually docile Deanna Troi is confronted by the Bodai Shin. 'I'm really happy we have scenes in which Deanna has a chance to show not only her inner fortitude, but that she can take care of herself in a fight,' says Ciencin. 'That was a really fun moment for me because it was something I had wanted to see as a fan.'

And, if that's not enough for TNG fans, Killing Shadows also promises appearances from several 'surprise' guest stars. First up is someone last seen in TNG's fifth season two-parter, 'Unification': Sela, the half-human, half-Romulan daughter of the alternate reality Tasha Yar from 'Yesterday's Enterprise.' While Ciencin's guarded about Sela's exact role in the story, fans can look forward to more fireworks between her and Picard. 'Picard is very aware in this one of Sela's origins,' says Ciencin about her previously confusing parentage. 'Her past is a considerable issue between them.'

Next up is former Enterprise crew member Worf, who leaves his assignment on Deep Space Nine to temporarily rejoin the crew. 'Worf has an integral role in the story,' reveals Ciencin. 'His presence helps to highlight the striking differences in philosophy between the warrior races of the Klingons and the Bodai Shin. Once he has a close encounter or two with the assassins, he totally despises them. He feels they have no honor, no respect for life. His view is similar to the way the samurai looked at the ninja. However, the ninja and the Bodai Shin have a very different take on things, which is fully explored in the story.'

Villainous Origins

While Ciencin prefers readers to discover what those differences are as the story unfolds, he readily admits that ninja lore played a key role in developing and shaping the Bodai Shin. For Ciencin, whose writing credits include more than 40 novels, such as GEN13: Time and Chance and the Dinoverse adventure series, it was initially a matter of finding a threat that hadn't been done before in the Star Trek universe. 'With some continuing series, wherein you can't make major and lasting changes to the characters, the choice of villain becomes really important,' explains Ciencin. 'Khan [from Star Trek II: The Wraith of Khan] was a great 'bad guy.' The Borg were an incredible threat. I went through the many decades of Star Trek continuity and tried to find something that hadn't really been explored. The samurai belief was highly present in the Klingon culture, but the ninjas didn't seem to be represented. It felt like a perfect fit.'

Armed with a strong interest in Asian culture and mythology--and 'a library filled with books on the subject'--Ciencin teamed up with Currie to begin designing the deadly new race. 'The Bodai Shin aren't unmasked until issue three, so I can't give away too much about their physiology. But I asked for a futuristic vision of a ninja, complete with nightmare black armor, ionic swords, throwing stars, sais and more--and Andrew delivered.'

In addition to traditional Asian reference materials, Currie turned to a number of different sources for inspiration. 'The armor was influenced partially by Bob Kingwood's designs for Batman's armor in the second Batman movie,' says Currie. 'I really liked the way it looked like armor, while still suggesting an idealized 'superhero' muscularity. [For the Bodai Shin], I kind of stretched out the limbs and tried to make the joints knobby and insectlike. I also looked at some Manga designs, particularly some by the incomparable Masamune (Ghost in the Shell) Shirow.'

With very physical villains like the Bodai Shin, dramatizing the fight scenes and making them exciting and dynamic was also a high priority. 'I tried to make the action interesting by taking unusual angles, cutting between close ups and wider shots, and trying to get the reader to focus on the points of impact,' says Currie, whose comics experience includes Captain America, West Coast Avengers, Judge Dredd and Sinister Dexter.

Beyond visualizing the Bodai Shin, Currie's other challenge was tackling the TNG's many ships and character likenesses. All images must be approved by Paramount and, in some cases, the actors themselves. For Currie, ensuring accuracy came down to good, old-fashioned research. 'My approach was the same as with any project: to try and make it look as real as possible,' explains Currie. 'Luckily, there are masses of source material for the ships, weapons and uniforms. The likenesses were a real challenge--difficult, but rewarding. In a way, accurate likenesses are central to the impact of the book, so the only way to go was to amass as much reference as possible. I also watched the movies and tapes of the TV show to get a feel for the way the characters move or stand. Luckily, I'm a huge Star Trek fan with a lot of source material, so reference wasn't too much of a problem!'

Ciencin, for one, has nothing but high praise for his partner. 'Andrew has an amazing talent not only for capturing likenesses, but also for dynamic, dramatic storytelling. Andrew's style is highly cinematic. He's been able to capture the quiet, poignant moments of the story beautifully, the growing sense of menace and the practically unrelenting series of physical encounters with the Bodai Shin. There are hand-to-hand battles, sword fights, chases, explosive ship to ship rumbles--you name it. Andrew has lent exactly the right balance of darkness and light, of drama and humor, and of pure, satisfying action that I envisioned.'

Killing Shadows, Take 2?

While the first mini-series is a self-contained story, Ciencin says it lays the groundwork for future tales. However, whether or not readers share his same enthusiasm will determine if the Bodai Shin and Void make a return appearance. 'It will largely depend on sales and fan response,' admits Ciencin. 'I pitched the mini-series as an introduction of this new threat, and it's very clear that while it ties up all loose ends and stands alone nicely, that not only is the door wide open for sequels, but also that this is the first movement in a very specific agenda that the Void is pursuing. In the next two arcs I'd like to write, that threat would come front and center and ultimately be resolved, but not without lasting consequences.'

If given the opportunity to complete the planned trilogy, Ciencin has high hopes that it'll not only further establish the Bodai Shin and Void as major threats, but join the ranks of many other sweeping, cosmic epics. 'Visually, I'd like the next two mini-series to be to Star Trek comics what The Authority has been to mainstream superhero comics--wild, cosmic, anything goes,' says Ciencin. 'At the same time, I think it's always important to keep the audience's rooting interest firmly fixed with the characters. So even though the backdrop I'd like to see employed would be far more expansive than what we chose to work with in this one, the focus would be even tighter on two key relationships that are set up at the close of [this] mini-series. Potentially, it would place Picard in a role he's never undertaken before.'

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