I like "The City on the Edge of Forever" a lot. It's one of the best episodes of classic Star Trek, and I've found that because of its human drama, mostly free of the cliches one might associate with Trek, it makes a great introductory episode for people who think they might not like the original series. Because I like it a lot, I've never had much interest in the complaints of its author, Harlan Ellison, who's been railing against the changes made to his teleplay since the episode first aired in 1967. Not to take anything away from Mr. Ellison, but no matter what his intent was, the episode works very well as is.
IDW's comic book adaptation of Ellison's original version of the story (from writers Scott and David Tipton and painter J.K. Woodward) arrives as a five-issue mini-series, which is about as close as we'll ever get to seeing what his unaltered episode would've looked like had it aired. Many interested readers will be approaching this comic already armed with the knowledge of the differences in Ellison's original plotting. Others, like myself, will read it as a comparison piece to the television episode, unable to turn off our memories of the events that were re-written for TV by Trek's staff of writers. Very few will pick up this first issue with a fresh pair of eyes.
For those virgin readers, I wonder if there's enough substance in the first issue to get them to come back for more (and part of me wonders why this ended up chopped into a comic book mini-series instead of released a single impressive graphic novel). Beckwith, a drug-dealing Enterprise crew member, is barely a character as Ellison presents him, so when Beckwith jumps through a time portal to escape punishment from his superior officers, there's no investment from the reader. On paper, the reason to care is that he might alter time through his desperate act, but considering we barely know him and the core crew (Kirk, Spock, and Rand) barely know anything about the portal he jumped through, the whole event lacks drama as a first-issue cliffhanger. Things that feel like they need more time to cook (Beckwith's relationships, motivations, and actions) get a minimal number of panels in exchange for very deliberate hand-holding about how time travel works, across several pages.
For familiar readers, this comic only feels like a curio piece. The biggest divergence in this first issue is Beckwith as the catalyst for events instead of the temporarily insane Dr. McCoy as seen on TV. I always found that McCoy plot point a little odd (but no more odd than a lot of odd Trek plot points), and in concept, I like Ellison's idea of a guy on the lam leading Kirk and Spock to jump into the time steam. It's not very "Roddenberry" of Ellison to kick off the story with a drug-dealing murderous red shirt, and I have to think that was at least part of the reason the teleplay was altered to have McCoy accidentally drug himself and go nuts. In execution, Beckwith is a non-character in this first issue, defined only by the criminal actions needed to get the plot from point A to point B.
More impressive is the City on the Edge of Forever itself, unrestrained by CBS television budgets, and showcased here as a cavernous, otherworldly, crystalline monument watched over by ethereal 30-feet tall guardians. If this was Ellison's original vision for this scene, it would've been near-impossible to execute with the effects of the time, and it lets Woodward stretch his legs with the art more than trying to replicate specific likenesses and sets.
I'll admit that it may be unfair to discuss this comic in a monthly, single-issue form, but this is the way the book is being delivered, so here we are. I suspect that only the most die hard Star Trek fans (funnily enough, the ones who already know exactly what's going to happen) are going to be willing to pick up this single story in chopped-up monthly bits. I'd hope the final, completed work would allow for a more thoughtful critique and examination because, as is, there's just not enough story in this little sliver, no matter how different it is from the original.