So far, I've reviewed Babylon 5 across movies, books, and televised episodes. With this review, the series enters a new medium: comics.
Commander Sinclair has been rather abruptly recalled to Earth. As he waits, "cooling his heels" for days, to discover the reason he was removed from Babylon 5, he continues to insist to anyone who will listen that President Santiago was assassinated. Unfortunately, he is unable to find anyone who will listen.
After two days, Sinclair is wakened in the middle of the night to meet with the new President, Clark. Clark seems vaguely disdainful of Sinclair, noting his stiff bearing and dismissing his accomplishments as both soldier and fighter pilot. But Clark does have some information Sinclair wants: the secret to the missing 24 hours in his memory.
Clark has one additional visitor: the Minbari Rathenn. Rathenn uses a triluminary to restore Sinclair's memory, so that he recalls his interrogation and examination, and remembers the deliberations of the Gray Council. Rathenn and Clark further clarify these memories, informing Sinclair - as Lennier did to Sheridan in Points of Departure - of the Minbari souls being reborn in humans.
Then Clark drops a further bombshell on Sinclair. The commander will not be returning to Babylon 5. He is instead being taken to the Gray Council, and from there to Minbar, where he will serve as the first human ambassador to the Minbari homeworld. As Sinclair prepares to meet with the Gray Council, we hear the ominous words of a member of the warrior caste aboard the cruiser.
"Lies. All lies..."
Following the modest commercial success and distinct critical acclaim surrounding the first season, J. Michael Straczynski came up with a brainstorm that would both expand the franchise and ease the transition between series leads: he initiated a series of comics, released through leading comic publisher DC, to show other stories occurring within the Babylon 5 universe. The first of these stories, wisely enough, was this one - Sinclair's side of the reassignment story.
There are many advantages to this within the overall arc. I commented in my review of Points of Departure how arbitrary Lennier's infodump seemed, and how wrong it seemed to receive that information in Sinclair's absence. This comic helps rectify that by allowing us to see Sinclair receiving the news. His reaction is appropriate to the character: denial, followed by a stretch where he is both withdrawn and silent. Clark assures Sinclair that he "doesn't believe this Minbari soul crap" any more than Sinclair does. But knowing what we already know of Sinclair's character, we get the sense that Sinclair takes Rathenn's revelation a lot more seriously than Clark does.
Sinclair is generally well-written and well-portrayed in this issue. Not a surprise, given that the text and story were written by Straczynski. Clark is also well-written. He tries to be as ingratiating and affable as possible - natural behavior, for a politician - but we get several lines to give a sense of the character's darker side. He is very dismissive of Sinclair at first, mocking his bearing ("At ease... is that much at ease as you get?") and scorning his accomplishments within the service, which we were previously told were quite notable prior to the Battle of the Line. His glib assurances to Sinclair that he will be kept up to date on Garibaldi's condition and shuttled back to Babylon 5 should that condition change carry all the firm conviction of soggy oatmeal. And Clark's rather rude dismissal of Rathenn's claims ("this Minbari soul crap") portrays him as a particularly close-minded individual. Despite this being as affable as Clark will ever appear, his behavior even here marks him as the last man you would want in a position of supreme power.
The story also benefits from the echoes and refrains from Chrysalis. "Nothing's the same anymore," Sinclair's narration observes repeatedly, in between the story's major beats. "This is Earthdome," he notes at another point. "No one ever gets a straight answer." This last also echoes Kalain's words in Points of Departure: "The Gray Council never tell anyone more than half the truth." Nice to know that, even in the future, governments will be the same world... er, universe-over.
The story is actually quite well-written, but there is one major drawback to this maiden issue of the Babylon 5 comic: the artwork. It is simply not a well-drawn comic. Admittedly, I have probably spoiled myself a little in that the only comic I have read on a consistent basis is Neil Gaiman's superlative (and beautifully-drawn) Sandman series. But I don't need to compare this with Sandman to see that the artwork here is weak. Several of Sinclair's facial expressions are made to seem over-the-top, and Sinclair's very facial structure appears to change between certain pages (the Sinclair in the top-right panel of page 5 looks vaguely like a drag queen, for example; while the Sinclair on the bottom panel of page 6 looks like he's badly constipated). After a few pages, I did my best to just read the story, which was quite good, while looking at the pictures as little as possible.
Beyond Straczynski's control (and apparently something he was quite upset about), is the alteration to dialogue during the Battle of the Line flashback. I specifically refer to the instance where Sinclair refers to the Minbari as "demons." It was a particularly poor choice of replacements for the original expletive, because it undermines Sinclair's entire character. Even when he has hated the Minbari, he has never de-humanized (de-sentientized?) them. If DC felt they could not leave the original "bastards" intact (and given that Sandman and other comics feature far worse than "bastard," I have no idea why they felt the need to change it), then they should have had Straczynski himself come up with a replacement insult, one that would not change the meaning of the line in such a disturbing way.
Overall, however, this is a very strong introductory issue, one which plugs the holes between Chrysalis and Points of Departure very nicely. A pity there was no financially feasible way to film this as an episode (I genuinely believe it would have made a better season premiere than Points of Departure), but I am glad Sinclair's story continues in some form.
Would be a "9" if not for the weak artwork. If the illustration quality continues at this level, then I can understand why the comic failed after only a handful of issues. The story is strong. But to quote a friend of mine, who is much more into comics than I am - "nothing kills a comic like bad artwork."