An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
13: Marvel Comics, 1981–1982
Marvel’s first Star Trek comic book line, launched in 1980 to tie in with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, has a reputation for being largely disconnected from the 1960s television series. The widespread belief is that the writers never referenced the TV show because they weren’t allowed to, and that the series thus failed because it was unrecognizable as Star Trek. This tends to be taken at face value. The problem? It’s largely off the mark.
The writers did face storytelling restrictions, yes, in that they received permission to follow up on the film, but not the TV show. They couldn’t, for instance, run a story about the Planet Killer returning, or Charles Evans seeking revenge, or (Great Bird forbid) the Eymorgs stealing Spock’s brain for a second time, accompanied by Gorgan the Friendly Angel. Direct sequels were out, and there wasn’t much Marvel could do about that.
Or was there?
In truth, that didn’t stop the creators from sneaking in a lot of references to both the classic show and The Animated Series. Last week, this column examined how the first nine issues brought back Admiral Fitzpatrick, revisited James Kirk’s days aboard the USS Republic, unveiled a lost colony from the Eugenics Wars era, and more. Despite common wisdom, Marvel was undeniably connected to The Original Series, thanks to sly writers determined to do what they’d been mandated not to. This effort only intensified in issues #10–18, in which the team built upon established lore with numerous episode tie-ins.
In issue #11, the USS Lafayette‘s crew died from exposure to Berthold rays on the planet Andronicus, giving readers a grisly glimpse at just how deadly Omicron Ceti III (from “This Side of Paradise”) would have been without that episode’s mind-controlling spores. Additionally, Scotty’s ex-girlfriend Andrea Manning drunkenly ranted that neither Carolyn Palamas (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”) nor Mira Romaine (“The Lights of Zetar”) loved him as much as she did. The writers knew the show’s history, and they were making sure readers realized it, edict be damned.
But Marvel was just warming up, for issue #12 broke the “no sequels” rule. In that issue, Janice Rand married a Phaetonian named Kadan and transferred to the USS Icarus to take part in a manned extragalactic probe. The galactic barrier drove the crew insane, however, demonstrating the same effects depicted or mentioned in three episodes of The Original Series (“Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”). The Phaetonians then destroyed a Class J cargo ship (“Mudd’s Women”), wreaked havoc in the Ilyria System (“Mudd’s Passion”), and were remanded to the asylum on Elba II (“Whom Gods Destroy”) for psychotherapy, thereby connecting multiple episodes in a single arc.
The Organian Peace Treaty (“Errand of Mercy”) was put to the test in issue #13, which featured Leonard McCoy’s daughter Joanna, now engaged to a Vulcan named Suvak. Bones noted that he hadn’t received new photos of Joanna since she’d been a nurse on Cerberus, a callback to the animated episode “The Survivor.” Plus, providing yet another cartoon tie-in, Suvak was dying of choriocytosis, a blood disease that had plagued the Enterprise crew in “The Pirates of Orion.”
The following issue, #14, saw McCoy administer cordrazine (“The City on the Edge of Forever”) to cure Uhura from possession (a rather unorthodox use of the drug). Issue #15 revealed the medicine could also be used recreationally (possibly a subtle link to Harlan Ellison’s original script for that episode, which dealt with drug dealing). That same issue gruesomely referenced The Animated Series‘ “The Ambergris Element,” with a prison supervisor describing a tortured inmate as having his arms and legs come off “like an Argan sur-snake.” But the story’s most direct link was to “Whom Gods Destroy,” as it featured the shape-shifting natives of Antos IV, from whom Garth of Izar had learned about cellular metamorphosis.
Finally, in issue #18, an alien robot abducted Kirk and Spock in order to teach compassion and selflessness to its cruel creators, who would soon awaken from suspended animation. Having sensed their brotherly bond, the robot subjected both men to illusions until each willingly died for the other, then transferred their self-sacrificial thoughts to its warlike masters’ minds in the hope that they would become better people.
That issue presented a powerful tale, built upon the intense friendship the two men built throughout The Original Series, and it was easily Marvel’s best outing. It was also the last, other than a paperback digest reprinting issues #7, 11 and 12, titled Star Trek: The Further Adventures of the Starship Enterprise. A caption even described Kirk as Spock’s t’hy’la, a Vulcan term meaning “friend” and “brother,” first mentioned in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
What does all this illustrate? Put simply: the oft-repeated clam that Marvel’s writers lacked an understanding of Star Trek, and that they never incorporated elements of the TV shows because they could only reference The Motion Picture, is simply in error. The fact is, strong connections abounded in almost every issue.
Next week, DC Comics takes the stage and presents an unprecedented number of sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to filmed and televised Star Trek. DC ushered in a new era, and from that point forward, Trek comics would be forever changed.
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.