An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
14: DC Comics, 1984
Two years after Marvel Comics’ first Star Trek series concluded, DC Comics acquired the license to chart new adventures for James T. Kirk and the Enterprise crew. DC’s approach differed from prior efforts, as the comics took place between the movies and formed an ongoing narrative rather than relying on self-contained storytelling. Unlike Marvel, which had mined concepts mainly from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, DC made heavy use of established continuity. Long-running arcs were common on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have made them a staple part of the modern-era shows. But back in the day, Star Trek was largely episodic, which made DC’s approach revolutionary.
DC’s first Trek series, edited by Marv Wolfman, Mike W. Barr, and Robert Greenberger, spanned the period from right after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to well after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, totaling 56 monthly issues, three annuals, two movie adaptations, and the two-part Who’s Who in Star Trek. The writers retained Saavik in the cast for a time, brought back Arex and M’Ress from The Animated Series, and introduced new secondary characters, including Konom (a Klingon defector who joined Kirk’s crew before Worf was heralded as Starfleet’s first Klingon), Nancy Bryce (who married Konom long before Tom Paris wooed B’Elanna Torres), and William Bearclaw (a toxic bigot who spent the series hassling Konom and pissing off Kirk), among others.
This week’s column examines issues #1–8, which built up to DC’s adaptation of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Whereas prior Star Trek comics had seemed a bit off at times, DC’s tales felt truly authentic. The terminology and jargon were accurate, the shuttlecrafts were based on the Galileo and not on pulp science-fiction designs, and the dialogue and the themes rang true. Moreover, when the creators offered sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to episodes and films—which they did aplenty—the fit was pretty seamless. The series opened with a four-part saga set right after The Wrath of Khan, involving elements of not only the first two movies but also numerous episodes.
The Klingons have hidden a space station inside a wormhole (the type presented in The Motion Picture, not the ones later shown on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine), from which to launch covert attacks on Federation vessels. Commanding the base is Captain Koloth (from “The Trouble With Tribbles” and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”), who is drawn with the lobster-like Klingon ridge added in the first movie. This seemed at the time like a continuity error, but it ties in nicely now with Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath,” in which he sported cranial ridges. Koloth dies by story’s end—the writers had no idea what Deep Space Nine would do since they had no idea Deep Space Nine would even exist—but this wouldn’t stop the Klingon from returning in a later DC storyline.
The reason for the Klingons’ disregard for the Organian Peace Treaty (“Errand of Mercy”) soon becomes apparent: the Excalbians (“The Savage Curtain”), still studying good and evil, have possessed Starfleet’s Grand Admiral Stephen Turner (from William Rostler’s Star Trek fiction anthologies) and Klingon Emperor Kahless IV in order to spark a galactic war. To prevent the Organians from interfering, the Excalbians have encased their world inside a forcefield, but Kirk frees the Organians and tricks the two powers into warring with each other, cleverly nullifying both the Excalbian threat and the treaty.
Commander Kor returns as well, along with an officer named Kaas, possibly intended to be Kaz, Kor’s underling in the animated “The Time Trap.” Kor, too, now sports cranial ridges, as in “Blood Oath,” and he and Kirk have one of the funniest exchanges in the story (see below). Barr clearly understood Star Trek‘s characters like prior comics writers had not. Letter writers expressed early concern about Barr, given his involvement with Marvel’s run, but quickly changed their tune upon seeing how well-versed he was in Trek lore.
Standalone tales appeared in issues #5 and 6, followed by a two-parter in #7 and 8 that explored Saavik’s past. Issue #5, a standard Prime Directive story, references the Richter Scale of Culture (“Errand of Mercy”) but otherwise has little connection to any specific episodes. Issue #6, on the other hand, offers a simultaneous sequel to “A Taste of Armageddon,” “Journey to Babel,” and “Whom Gods Destroy,” by having the Enterprise escort Ambassador Robert Fox to a peace conference on Babel, as well as introducing Fox’s terrorist daughter Trisha, who has learned the same shape-shifting trick once acquired by Garth of Izar. Among the shapes Trisha assumes are a Dimorian water rat (described but not named in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and a Gorn (“Arena”).
Saavik’s backstory provides an unexpected tie-in to the aborted TV series Star Trek: Phase II, the pilot of which was repurposed as The Motion Picture. Saavik experiences pon farr (“Amok Time”) and steals a shuttlecraft to find her betrothed—who turns out to be Xon, a Phase II character who was to have been played by actor David Gautreaux. A childhood flashback reveals that Spock had rescued Saavik from a Romulan world—a concept also explored in the novels—and had brought her to live with Sarek and Amanda (“Journey to Babel”) on Vulcan, who had arranged the marriage.
Half-insane with pon farr, Saavik heads to the galactic rim to find Xon, who is engaged in Vulcan espionage near the galactic energy barrier (“Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”). His mission? To thwart a Romulan plot to use the barrier’s energies to augment soldiers’ psychic powers. Romulan Commander Tal—promoted since “The Enterprise Incident”—returns as well and ends up trapped aboard a ship lost inside the barrier.
This two-parter aligned DC’s series with The Search for Spock, working the film into the comic’s storyline and setting the stage for DC’s movie adaptation and post-film arcs without negating the first eight issues. Saavik and David Marcus end up aboard the USS Grissom, while the Enterprise is again battle-damaged and returns to Earth, just in time for Star Trek III to begin. Foreshadowing the movie’s events, Sarek prepares to ask Kirk about Spock’s death, while McCoy surprises himself by being able to read Vulcan, a side-effect of his carrying Spock’s katra. Carol Marcus’s absence from the movie is even explained.
Amazingly, the narrative flow from one film to the next remains intact, even with the comics’ events wedged in between—a hallmark of DC’s outstanding Star Trek line. Next time, we’ll explore issues #9–20, including one of DC’s most acclaimed Star Trek sequels, as well as the first annual. At last, the comic book medium had reached its full potential in following up televised Trek.
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.