Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #10

An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…

10: LA Times Syndicate, 1979-1981

The year 1979 was rather extraordinary for Star Trek comics. No fewer than six companies produced original comics or strips in one form or another that year, a record never broken in the four decades since. If you can name all six without peeking, that’s impressive, as a few of them are pretty obscure.

Gold Key’s monthly comic reached its final issues in early 1979, while Power Records continued to put out comic-and-record sets for children. Simultaneously, Marvel Comics released its Marvel Super Special adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, heralding the arrival of a monthly spinoff comic the following year (to be discussed here soon). Meanwhile, Larami offered kid-friendly comic strips in its Star Trek Space Viewer toy, and McDonalds did the same with its Star Trek Happy Meals.

Star Trek, brought to you daily by the L.A. Times Syndicate

So that’s five out of the six. What’s the other one? That would be the daily newspaper strips distributed by the L.A. Times Syndicate. The strips ushered in a new comics era in terms of tie-ins to onscreen Star Trek. Whereas prior publishers’ efforts had displayed scant knowledge of the classic TV series, that changed when Trek began appearing in papers alongside Peanuts, Blondie, Doonesbury, Dick Tracy, and Prince Valiant.

Not long before Gold Key left the franchise, Mandala Productions obtained a license to launch serialized strips chronicling the Enterprise‘s post-The Motion Picture adventures. The strips were slated to utilize a format similar to the Star Trek Fotonovels, which the firm had produced for Bantam Books, but Mandala’s president, Laszlo Papas, suddenly abandoned the project, leaving the distributor, the L.A. Times Syndicate, holding the reins. The Syndicate opted for a more traditional art style but retained Thomas Warkentin (whom Papas had hired after auditioning more than a hundred artists, including Al Williamson and Neal Adams) as writer and illustrator. Warkentin’s audition strips saw James Kirk’s friends Paul and Elsa Hoff being married on the planet Zeon, from “Patterns of Force,” and also featured the return of Dohlman Elaan, from “Elaan of Troyius.”

One of Thomas Warkentin’s Star Trek audition strips

The strips lasted for four years and a day, presented 20 tales from various creative teams, and were set between The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Alas, poor distribution prevented the series from ever rising above obscurity. So thankfully, IDW’s Library of American Comics collected the entire run in a pair of beautifully crafted hardcover volumes in 2012 and 2013, which included the audition strips as a bonus. Nostalgia World had previously reprinted a portion of the series in a quintet of flimsy newpaper-print volumes titled Voyages of the Enterprise, and Eaglemoss has since reprinted the full run in its Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection—but it’s the IDW books that truly stand out as a work of art. This was nectar from the space-gods, for despite a few weak tales, the strips are a trivia treasure trove.

Nostalgia World’s Voyages of the Enterprise

Warkentin knew his Trek well, and it showed throughout his eight storylines, which referenced the Gorn (“Arena”), the Rigel Colony (“The Doomsday Machine”), the Klingon agonizer (“Day of the Dove”), the Tarsus System (“The Conscience of the King”), cordrazine (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), Rigellian fever (“Requiem for Methuselah”), the Vega System (“The Cage”), Denebian slime devils (“The Trouble With Tribbles”), gossamer mice (“The Terratin Incident”), plomeek soup (“Amok Time”), Hortas (“The Devil in the Dark”), and more. And in his fifth storyline, “Aberration on Abaris,” Kirk’s quarters aboard the Enterprise contained an audiotape titled Garth of Izar on Tactics—a fond homage to “Whom Gods Destroy.”

The reprint books from IDW and Eaglemoss

Clearly, this was not someone for whom Star Trek was just another job—Warkentin was a fan, and his comic strip run marked the first time Star Trek comics actually felt like Star Trek written by someone truly familiar with Star Trek. Intriguingly, the writer-artist even introduced in his strips a device that would later become a staple medical tool in televised Trek. His third storyline, “The Real McCoy,” featured a laser scalpel more than a decade prior to the device’s onscreen debut in The Next Generation‘s “The Host.”

Whom Gods Listen To

Warkentin’s artwork was simply beautiful, offering layers of detail and dead-on depictions for every character and all Starfleet and Klingon technology. His stories expertly meshed with the tone of the classic series in terms of characterization and dialogue, as well as The Motion Picture‘s visual aesthetics. In his more memorable tales, he introduced Leonard McCoy’s ex-wife, Klingon renegades seeking asylum aboard the Enterprise, and a pair of aliens awakened from hypersleep after nine centuries.

Introducing Leonard McCoy’s ex-wife Joann

But it’s Warkantin’s final storyline, “It’s a Living,” that matters most for this column’s purposes, as it provides a sequel to a trio of popular episodes when the Enterprise visits Argus IV, a mining world owned by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Harry, portrayed by actor Roger C. Carmel in “Mudd’s Women,” “I, Mudd,” and the animated “Mudd’s Passion,” had obtained the planet by swindling its original owner, and he quickly sells it back to the man once the world breaks apart. In so doing, though, he inadvertently cons himself by failing to realize the planet is far more valuable from a mining perspective now that its chunks can be easily towed away. It’s silly, but that’s the point—it’s vintage Harry Mudd.

Harry Mudd, minus sex slaves, androids and love potion

Next week, we’ll examine the remaining newspaper strips as Sharman DiVono, Ron Harris, novelist Larry Niven, and others take the stage following Warkentin’s departure. Not every story rivaled Warkentin’s quality, but thanks to Niven, the Syndicate provided the first direct sequel to an episode of The Animated Series. After that, we’ll seek out new life in the house that Stan Lee built. Stay tuned.

Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:

Rich Handley has written books about Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Watchmen, as well as licensed Star Wars and Planet of the Apes fiction, and he edited 70 volumes of Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection. Rich co-edited Titan’s Scribe Award-nominated Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone; nine Sequart anthologies discussing Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Hellblazer, Stargate, and classic monsters; and four Crazy 8 Press anthologies about Batman and (now) the Joker. He has contributed essays to DC’s Hellblazer: 30th Anniversary Celebration; IDW’s Star Trek and Star Wars comic-strip reprint books; BOOM! Studios’ Planet of the Apes Archive hardcovers; Sequart anthologies about Star Trek and Blade Runner; ATB Publishing’s Outside In line exploring Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Babylon 5; and a Becky Books anthology covering Dark Shadows.

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