An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
12: Marvel Comics, 1980
Star Trek comics debuted in 1967 courtesy of Gold Key, and other publishers soon entered the arena, including Power Records, the L.A. Times Syndicate, a handful of British distributors, and more. Although trivia hounds will spot references to the 1960s and 1970s TV shows, actual episode sequels were few and far between other than a half-dozen or so Gold Key issues and a single Syndicate story arc.
Concurrent with the Syndicate’s daily newspaper strips, Marvel Comics published a monthly comic that, like the strips, was set between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan. Despite its (undeserved) reputation as a failed attempt at four-color Star Trek, it served up a number of enjoyable voyages, particularly during the second half of the series. This week, we’ll examine issues #1–9 in the context of how well they fared with regard to TV tie-ins. In the case of Marvel, it was a bit of a tricky situation.
Marvel’s first foray into Star Trek launched with Marvel Super Special Magazine #15, adapting The Motion Picture, which it also packaged as a paperback digest. The adaptation was written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson, with a stunning cover painted by Bob Larkin. A monthly comic followed four months later, with the adaptation serialized in issues #1–3 and original tales presented in the remaining 15 issues. These were written by a rotating lineup of creators, including Mike W. Bar (who would go on to pen some of DC Comics’ finest tales) and Martin Pasko (who would soon write for the newspaper strips).
The series featured some solid stories (and a few duds) but was often adorned by cringe-worthy covers that likely turned away potential readers. Marvel mined elements of The Motion Picture, from appearances by Chief DiFalco and Rhaandarite crewmembers to Perscan devices, Linguacode, and the movie’s peculiarly lobster-headed Klingons. There was never any doubt that the series was primarily built around the concepts, aesthetics, and technology featured in Star Trek‘s big-screen debut, and not the classic TV show.
The comic was perhaps doomed from the outset, hampered as it was by a short-sighted edict granting the writers and editors permission to follow up on the film, but not the television series. This restriction prevented Marvel from offering any outright sequels to TV stories, something letter writers often requested. However, the writing staff managed to sneak in many episode references, some quite overt—not only from the live-action show but from the cartoon as well—which Paramount thankfully either didn’t mind or simply didn’t notice. Issues #4 and #6, for instance, brought back Admiral Fitzpatrick, from “The Trouble With Tribbles” (though he looked more like actor Lorne Greene in the comics), while in #5, a Klingon threatened to subject Spock to a mind-sifter, the effects of which he’d previously endured in “Errand of Mercy.”
The fourth issue contained a retroactive connection to “Fascination,” an episode of Deep Space Nine that wouldn’t air for another 14 years, since R’Kgg, an alien ambassador, hailed from the planet Regulus 3. In “Fascination,” Jake Sisko’s girlfriend Mardah leaves him to attend a science academy on Regulus III, which (despite the difference in how its third-planet status is designated) could be the same world.
Issue #6, meanwhile, offered a glimpse into James Kirk’s earlier days aboard the USS Republic, on which he served with Ben Finney, according to The Original Series‘ “Court Martial.” As it happens, Kirk’s time aboard the Republic was recently referenced in his computer file shown in Strange New Worlds‘ “A Quality of Mercy.” In Marvel’s depiction, Kirk’s first deep-space duty aboard the Republic was to Yannid VI, where he helped to quell a rebellion and accidentally shot a royal prince—whom he’d been assigned to protect—in the process.
The eighth issue contained a pair of notable tie-ins. Medics at the Vega Colony (“The Cage” and “The Menagerie”) are said to have failed to diagnose Lenore Fowler with Denebian rheumatic fever. In addition, a species called the Orgs evolved from human refugees who’d fled Earth in the 1990s to avoid the Eugenics Wars (“Space Seed”), making this the second Star Trek comic to introduce a lost colony from the time of Khan Noonien Singh, following Gold Key’s Star Trek #10. What’s more, this particular group distrusted technology, much like another set of Eugenics Wars refugees in The Next Generation‘s “Up the Long Ladder” (the notorious “space Irish” episode).
Marvel also featured some fun tie-ins in its ninth issue. Janet Hester (not to be confused with Janice Lester, from “Turnabout Intruder,” or Janet Wallace, from “The Deadly Years”) is said to have created the transporter on the planet Deneva. Fans will recall that Deneva is where Kirk’s brother Sam lived until he and wife Aurelan were killed in “Operation—Annihilate!” (Star Trek: Enterprise‘s “Daedelus” would later reveal the technology to have been invented by Emory Erickson, but Marvel can hardly be blamed for getting this wrong.) And on Mycena, the Enterprise crew discovers equipment based on transtators, the basis of all vital Starfleet machinery, per “A Piece of the Action.”
Say what you will, but despite any perceived flaws the series might have in some circles, as well as the pervading but incorrect notion that Marvel was unable to reference the 1960s television series, it’s clear the writers knew their Star Trek—and that they leveraged its televised history often. The comics were a lot more readable than they’re generally given credit for, and they were not nearly as removed from The Original Series as fans might recall. I highly recommend giving them another shot.
Next time, we’ll continue to make ours Marvel as we wrap up the post-The Motion Picture run, examining how the series incorporated more connections to televised lore in the issues leading up to its premature culmination. After that, we’ll enter the golden age of Star Trek comic books with the arrival of DC Comics. During DC’s tenure, sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to televised Trek were as abundant as well-fed tribbles in a grain silo, so you won’t want to miss the discussion.
Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:
- The Complete Star Trek Comics Index, by yours truly
- The Star Trek Comics Checklist, by Mark Martinez
- The Wixiban Star Trek Collectables Portal, by Colin Merry
- New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, by Joseph F. Berenato
- Star Trek: A Comics History, by Alan J. Porter
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.