An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
17: DC Comics, 1986–1987
In its lead-up to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, DC Comics faced quite a challenge. The publisher had done a sterling job of molding its ongoing storyline around the events of the second and third theatrical films, but when Star Trek III: The Search for Spock ended, it left the Enterprise crew as fugitives without a starship, self-exiled on Vulcan and with Spock in a state of mental chaos. In order to keep telling new stories, DC cleverly put James T. Kirk’s Starfleet trial on hold, temporarily fixed Spock’s mind, and sent the crew off on new adventures aboard the USS Excelsior and the USS Surak.
So when The Voyage Home picked up where Star Trek III had left off, with Kirk and his officers still on Vulcan with a captured Klingon Bird-of-Prey, and with Spock still recovering from fal-tor-pan, DC somehow had to find a way to preserve the films’ status quo without sacrificing the events of issues #9–36. First, however, the publisher took a moment to celebrate the franchise’s 20th anniversary with a special story penned by Len Wein for issue #33, in which the Excelsior crew suddenly receives a distress call—seemingly from themselves.
The story begins—and ends—during the final moments of the classic episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” with the Enterprise overshooting its destination while traveling back from a trip to the 1960s. This creates a chronal warp, throwing the universe into upheaval. Spock, aboard the Surak, suggests using the Guardian of Forever (“The City on the Edge of Forever” and “Yesteryear”) as a portal to send the Enterprise back to the moment it left, while utilizing the “cold start” technique from “The Naked Time” to rebalance the engines via a controlled explosion—an imaginative fusion of elements from two fan-favorite time-travel episodes to create a new scientific innovation.
The meeting of the older and younger crews is poignant, with the older officers waxing nostalgic about their past and about those whom they haven’t seen in years, and the younger officers intrigued (and a few disappointed, particularly Nyota Uhura and Leonard McCoy) upon learning how their lives will turn out. It’s powerful stuff, and if anyone had worried that Len Wein’s simplistic Gold Key Star Trek days were a sign of the type of work they might expect from him at DC Comics, this issue surely dispelled such doubts.
Wein’s lead-in to Star Trek IV began with “The Doomsday Bug,” a three-part tale in issues #34–36. After the Enterprise returns to its own era, the entire Surak crew contracts a virus spread by an Andorian carrier, with Spock the sole survivor. Kirk brings him aboard the Excelsior, destroys the Surak, and pursues the escaping Andorian into Romulan territory, where the carrier infects those aboard the Romulan vessel Predator, driving them insane with homesickness. Kirk then allies with another Romulan commander and violates the Neutral Zone to stop the Predator from crashing into one of the Romulan homeworlds.
As relations with the Romulans break down, Starfleet dispatches a moustache-less Captain Styles (from Star Trek III) and the USS Saratoga (Star Trek IV) to retrieve Kirk and hold him accountable for his actions. Styles, of course, relishes the chance to lord it over Kirk’s officers, who’d caused him great humiliation in The Search for Spock by sabotaging the newly launched Excelsior. McCoy cures Spock’s body of the virus, but with his mind again unraveled, Kirk and his officers bring their stricken comrade back to Vulcan aboard the Bird-of-Prey before Styles can arrest them. Bones then ironically paints the words “HMS Bounty” on the Klingon vessel’s hull.
In one fell swoop, DC deftly dovetailed its own continuity with that of the new movie by restoring the main characters’ fugitive status, re-scrambling Spock’s mind, and giving Starfleet a reason to finally bring Kirk to trial—though sadly eliminating the Surak crew before fans truly got to know them. The fit wasn’t seamless, but it was pretty damn close, and readers went to theaters giddy with the knowledge that there had been other adventures between films, and that the early scenes of Star Trek IV were actually picking up from the events of “The Doomsday Bug,” not from the prior movie.
For tie-in enthusiasts, “The Doomsday Bug” had much to offer. It brought back Doctor M’Benga, from “A Private Little War” and “That Which Survives”; added to the mix Admiral Cartwright, who’d debuted in The Voyage Home before turning traitor in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; and showed Janice Rand to be working with the admiralty, explaining her cameos in Star Trek III‘s Spacedock scene and Star Trek IV‘s Starfleet Headquarters bookends. It also brought back Grand Admiral Stephen Turner, from William Rotsler’s Star Trek short story anthologies and DC’s early issues.
The Saratoga was initially drawn as an Excelsior-class vessel, rather than Miranda-class, though this error was fixed in later issues. Meanwhile, those familiar with FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game got the chance to see a Romulan Z-1 (Nova) Class battleship in the comics for the first time. What’s more, Wein called the Romulan homeworlds ch’Rihan and ch’Havran, the names given to Romulus and Remus in the novels of Diane Duane, who was credited for plotting assistance. For those familiar with the larger licensed universe, this story arc was mana from the heavens.
Following The Voyage Home (which the publisher adapted as a one-shot dubbed DC Movie Special #2), the Enterprise-A embarked on new adventures, with most of DC’s original characters returning other than Maria Morelli, who left the Enterprise—and thus her lover, Hikaru Sulu—because she viewed Kirk’s career as stalled. Meanwhile, Arex and M’Ress, from Star Trek: The Animated Series, made their comic book debut (other than Power Records’ blue-skinned humanoid M’Ress in Passage to Moauv) 13 years after the cartoon’s cancelation. The first six post-film issues comprised four one-off tales from Wein, Michael Fleisher, and Michael Carlin, as well as a two-parter from Wein.
Issue #37 tackles religious dogmatism, with a biblical fanatic attempting to murder Kirk for his involvement in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘s Project Genesis, which the man views as blasphemous. In that film, McCoy had questioned whether mankind had the right to play God, a sentiment now shared by the unnamed zealot. In issue #38, a tale involving Argonian pirates, the Enterprise visits Starbase 10, and readers learn that Commodore Stocker (from “The Deadly Years”) is still in command.
Orion pirates attack in issue #41—the crew was apparentlynothaving good luck with pirates in those days—clad in uniforms similar to those worn by the marauders in the animated “The Pirates of Orion”… though the Orions, for some reason, are drawn as Caucasian rather than with green skin. Kirk references an offscreen incident from ten years prior, when Kirk and Spock nearly died and Sulu and Chekov “took care of the Orion problem.” This was intended to connect with editor Robert Greenberger’s novel Orion’s Belt, part of The Lost Years storyline, which was unfortunately never published.
Finally, issue #42 sees a gremlin of Scottish lore creating havoc aboard the ship, which Scotty nicknames a “corbomite” since everyone else believes the creature to be fictitious, much like the titular substance of the classic episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.” The unnamed Federation President, from Star Trek IV, makes his first comics appearance in this issue outside of the film adaptation—and still isn’t given a name.
The aforementioned two-parter appears in #38–39, which features the return of conman Harcourt Fenton Mudd, portrayed by Roger C. Carmel in “Mudd’s Women,” “I, Mudd,” and “Mudd’s Passion,” and more recently by Rainn Wilson on Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks. In typical Mudd fashion, Wein’s take on the character includes a string of lies about his actions since those episodes, with an outlandish premise involving an alien nanny computer mistaking Harry for a child (which isn’t too far off the mark, really), abducting the Enterprise crew to serve as his playmates, and providing them with illusions of Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet (“The Man Trap”), the Emerald City of Oz, and M’Ress’s homeworld for their entertainment.
Oddly, M’Ress seems not to know who Mudd is, despite her having served aboard the starship during “Mudd’s Passion”—and despite Arex nonetheless recognizing the scoundrel. In a humorous flashback, Harry is shown selling “used tribbles,” which begs the question: used for what? (Then again, maybe it’s best we don’t know. This is, after all, a man known for trafficking women, both real and artificial.)
Wein’s adept mining of The Original Series continues. M’Benga now serves aboard the Enterprise-A, just as he had on the prior Enterprise and the Excelsior. A guide on the nanny planet tells Spock the world can be whatever the crew wishes it to be (reminiscent of “Shore Leave”) and cites Tombstone, Arizona—a recreation of which the characters had already experienced in “Spectre of the Gun”—as an example. And Kirk, frustrated after several failed attempts to out-logic the nanny artifact, amusingly asks if its creator was by any chance Jackson Roykirk; in “The Changeling,” Nomad had mistaken Kirk for Roykirk, its creator, enabling the captain to trick the space probe into destroying itself.
Len Wein knew his Trek well, Gold Key be damned, and it’s a shame his tenure at DC Comics didn’t last longer than a mere eight issues. Next week, we’ll look at how DC took a bite out of “The Apple.” Plus, we’ll explore the publisher’s inaugural Star Trek: The Next Generation miniseries as we continue examining Star Trek comics as prequels, sequels, and tie-ins.
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.