An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
16: DC Comics, 1985–1986
By the time DC Comics began presenting tales set between the third and fourth Star Trek films, it had already established itself as being a cut above prior publishers invited to play in the Trek sandbox. From artwork that more accurately depicted the original crew to writing that better encapsulated the tone, philosophies, and dialogue of the 1960s series and early movies, DC took Trek comics where no comic had gone before.
This week’s column explores issues #21–32 (during which James T. Kirk commanded the USS Excelsior, whileSpock captained the USS Surak), as well as DC’s second annual, in the continuing discussion of how the company provided sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to onscreen lore. Each issue was illustrated by the fan-favorite team of Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagrán, other than issues #28 (Gray Morrow) and #30 (Villagrán and Carmine Infantino), and the annual (Dan Jurgens and Bob Smith).
Issue #21, written by Bob Rozakis, spotlighted the Surak, whose crew were subjected to strange illusions on a newfound world. Rozakis explored Spock’s new officers, as well as the anti-Vulcan bigotry of one in particular, and revisited “Journey to Babel” by having Spock experience a vision of his mother Amanda wearing a Starfleet uniform, which he found understandably illogical. The Surak crew soon returned in issue #26, a lighthearted tale of transporter hijinks and Romulan foul play. The Surak, of course, was named after the founder of modern Vulcan thought, from The Original Series‘ “The Savage Curtain,” and later from Star Trek: Enterprise‘s “Awakening” and “Kir’Shara.”
Tony Isabella penned issues #22–23, which offered a sequel to Robert Bloch’s Jack the Ripper episode, “Wolf in the Fold.” The Excelsior investigates legends of an ancient battle between a hero from the stars, James T. Kirk, and the local god of evil, Redjac. The entity, seeking revenge on Kirk for its defeat in the classic episode, possesses crewmember Nancy Bryce (a regular cast member throughout DC’s run) so it can murder her shipmates unnoticed, then near-fatally stabs both Chekov and Klingon defector Konom (another series regular—and Nancy’s lover).
Intriguingly, the two-parter posited that Redjac’s true form may be that of a giant demon-head of energy that can survive in the vacuum of space. The story contained a tie-in to “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” with McCoy inducing a state of suspended animation using a Fabrini drug, from the worldship Yonada, to keep Chekov alive to undergo surgery.
Another two-parter, from novelist Diane Duane, ran in issues #24–25, in which the lobster-like Ajir and the housecat-like Grond attacked the Enterprise in turn, each posing as a fearsome empire in the hope of losing the battle and then tricking the Federation into paying war reparations to their worlds. It was a clever comedy in the tradition of “A Piece of the Action” and John M. Ford’s novel How Much for Just the Planet?, and those who haven’t read it should do so. Among Kirk’s crew is a Horta named Naraht, an offspring of the mother Horta whose children Kirk had saved in “The Devil in the Dark.” Naraht debuted in Duane’s highly regarded novel My Enemy, My Ally.
Series editor Robert Greenberger stepped in to write issue #27, in which Chekov scheduled drills to test the crew’s battle preparedness by simulating alien spaceships shaped like communist Russia’s “hammer and sickle” symbol. Greenberger’s Star Trek pedigree is well-established, so it should come as no surprise that his story mined numerous episodes, with references to Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet (“The Man Trap”), Psi 2000 (“The Naked Time”), and Richard Daystrom (“The Ultimate Computer”). What’s more, Chekov’s simulation included an ion storm (“The Galileo Seven,” “Court Martial,” and “Mirror, Mirror”), and the writer incorporated Saavik’s fiancé Xon, introduced in issues #7–8 as a tie-in to the aborted TV show Star Trek: Phase II.
Diane Duane returned for issue #28, using her own medical background to focus on McCoy. When a creature mauls a crewman to death during a planetary survey, the man’s grief-stricken friend, Alain Reynolds, lapses into a coma. Unable to find the cause, McCoy mind-melds with Reynolds—a remnant of his having stored Spock’s katra during Star Trek III: The Search for Spock—and convinces him not to lose the will to live. Bones performing a mind-meld is not as far-fetched as it may seem, considering that Jean-Luc Picard, after melding with Sarek in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Sarek,” was able to wield a Vulcan neck pinch. Duane name-checked Doctor M’Benga, from “A Private Little War” and “That Which Survives” (and now a series regular on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds) and amusingly gave Naraht an iron deficiency—which McCoy cured by having Scotty produce steel and pig iron for the hapless Horta to consume.
Isabella’s issue #29 was a standalone story, and it contained a chuckle-inducing tie-in to three classic episodes. Lieutenant Hathaway, a member of Kirk’s crew aboard the Excelsior, hounds him to catch up with long-overdue Starfleet reports from past missions, and to correct several discrepancies contained therein. These include his reports on Thasus (“Charlie X”), Beta III (“The Return of the Archons”), and Eminiar VII (“A Taste of Armageddon”). Given that these missions took place two decades prior, during The Original Series, Kirk must be very bad at turning in his paperwork!
Paul Kupperberg contributed the script to issue #30, a tale set early in the Enterprise‘s five-year mission under Kirk, which reveals Uhura’s addition to the crew—and, alas, the sexism she faces from male officers already aboard. Among them are Gary Mitchell and Lee Kelso, from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” who dismiss her as little more than a “radio lady.” Such blatant sexism seems anachronistic considering the tone of modern-day Star Trek shows, but it is sadly consistent with the atmosphere on The Original Series.
Next, Isabella teamed up with Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein, who’d previously written issues of the 1960s Gold Key run—but don’t hold that against him, because his work on DC’s Star Trek was excellent. The result: an action-packed and witty two-parter in issues #31–32, involving a competition between the Federation and the Klingon Empire to determine who could best develop a planet under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty (from “Errand of Mercy”).
Spearheading the Klingons’ efforts is Captain Koloth (“The Trouble With Tribbles” and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”), now sporting cranial ridges consistent with his later appearance in Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath.” No effort is made to explain how this is possible, given Koloth’s onscreen death in issue #4. Plus, Koloth had appeared ridgeless in another issue only a month prior (see below). Readers meet the hard-drinking and highly entertaining Koval, a one-eyed Klingon who’d served under Koloth but had quit the military after Kirk had filled their spaceship with tribbles.
Former series writer Mike W. Barr returned to pen DC’s second annual, which brought Kirk’s five-year mission to a close. In keeping with the spirit of the first annual, which had brought back Christopher Pike (“The Cage” and “The Menagerie”), the second annual utilized Enterprise captains past and future: not only Pike, but also Willard Decker, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Also appearing in a cameo: Commodore Stocker from “The Deadly Years,” now clad in TMP-era space pajamas.
Decker oversees an Enterprise refit, but the starship is mysteriously drawn to Talos IV (“The Cage” and “The Menagerie,” and more recently Star Trek: Discovery‘s “If Memory Serves”), where Klingon warships led by a non-ridged Koloth open fire. The Klingons, who have gained Talosian mental abilities—something the Talosians themselves had warned Pike about in “The Cage”—subject the crew to terrifying illusions until McCoy concocts a serum to stimulate feelings of anger, thereby freeing everyone from Klingon control.
Decker experiences the crew of the USS Constellation (misidentified as the Constitution) exacting revenge on him for their deaths in “The Doomsday Machine,” caused by a judgment error on the part of his father, Commodore Matt Decker, for which Will feels shame. Spock, meanwhile, suffers yet another illusion of his mother Amanda, this time appearing as a Vulcan and chastising him for bringing shame to their family by letting children’s taunts upset him (as shown in the animated “Yesteryear” and the 2009 Star Trek movie). One Klingon makes the fatal mistake of forcing Kirk to relive the death of Edith Keeler (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), which so angers the captain that he breaks free of the illusion and atypically beats his torturer to death.
The annual contained a surprising callback to the cartoon’s “The Practical Joker,” with Scotty planning an initiation party for crewmembers in the starship’s recreation room, using the hologram projector featured in that episode—an early precursor to the holodeck. Next week, we’ll continue examining DC’s first Trek comic spinoff, bringing us up to the theatrical film and beyond. After that: DC enters The Next Generation.
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.