An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
18: DC Comics, 1987–1988
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home altered the landscape of DC Comics’ monthly Star Trek title. James T. Kirk and his crew had left the USS Excelsior behind in the lead-up to the movie, while the USS Surak had been destroyed, and the crew were now reunited aboard a new starship, the Enterprise-A. Original characters Konom, Nancy Bryce, William Bearclaw, and Elizabeth Sherwood remained in the comic, but Sulu’s love interest Maria Morelli had departed—to be replaced, in a surprise move that delighted fans of Star Trek: The Animated Series, by Arex and M’Ress. One thing remained the same: DC’s commitment to offering sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to onscreen Star Trek.
Among DC’s most ambitious sequels was a 1987 tale featured in issues #43–45, from writer Michael Carlin. The story, titled “The Return of the Serpent,” called out Jim Kirk for what was arguably a wrong decision on his part. The captain has quite a history of destroying computers, but in the case of “The Apple,” there’s good reason to view his destruction of the snake-headed computer god Vaal—which had provided its followers with blissful paradise—as a bad judgment call. In DC’s sequel, the crew returns to Gamma Trianguli VI two decades later to check on the population’s progress… and it’s not pretty.
Vaal had kept the humanoids innocent, safe, and happy, but Kirk destroyed the machine nonetheless because he deemed freedom more important. Spock had questioned that decision—and for good reason, readers here discover, for along with the pleasures of sex and procreation, the tribe gained war, greed, fear, anger, and megalomania, while their deadly world grew out of control without Vaal protecting them from harm. Makora became a violent warlord with a harem of wives, while Akuta went into hiding with a band of zealous loyalists known as Vaalites.
In communing with Vaal, Spock learns the computer had been placed on the planet millions of years prior by settlers from Arret so they could live without bloodshed or suffering, ignorant of their war-torn history thanks to Vaal erasing their memories. Carlin neatly weaves aspects of “Return to Tomorrow” into Vaal’s history, for Arret, according to that episode’s script, had been the homeworld of Sargon, Henoch, and Thalassa before war destroyed their civilizations—hence, the settlers’ desire to have a computer god prevent further conflict. The comic also connects with the cartoon’s “The Counter-Clock Incident,” in which the crew visits Arret’s counterpart in an antimatter universe.
By destroying Vaal, Kirk had unknowingly set the tribe on a path toward Armageddon—which Spock averts by helping Akuta restore Vaal’s protective influence. Kirk realizes his mistake as he witnesses death and destruction resulting from his past decision. In essence, he is the metaphorical serpent of the storyline’s dual-meaninged title, which heralds not only Kirk’s return to the planet but the snake-god’s revitalization of paradise. Akuta chooses a repentant Makora to replace him as Vaal’s feeder, then banishes Kirk and company from the planet. One serpent restores paradise, while another is expelled.
Earlier that year, DC had published the two-part Who’s Who in Star Trek. The publisher had already produced Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, which had catalogued many popular characters from its superhero mythos. The concept proved successful, so DC naturally did the same with Star Trek. In a pair of issues written by Allan Asherman (the author of such books as The Star Trek Compendium, The Star Trek Interview Book, and The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), the company spotlighted Trek‘s many characters, worlds, starships, and empires, including characters originating in the comics. Who’s Who offered tie-ins aplenty to the shows and movies, far too many to list here, though some details contradicted what had occurred onscreen.
Not long after taking another bite out of “The Apple,” DC unveiled its inaugural tie-in with Star Trek: The Next Generation. In early 1988, about a half-year after viewers were introduced to the 24th century on television, the publisher debuted the premiere chapter of a six-issue miniseries written by Michael Carlin, with art by Pablo Marcos, Carlos Garzon, and Arne Starr. The series’ scripting and illustrating had commenced before the TV pilot had aired, meaning the creative team had not yet watched the program.
If you’ve ever wondered why Will Riker relaxes in his bridge chair as though reclining on a beach lounge; why Wesley Crusher gets in Picard’s face, demanding to know whether the captain plans to “kick their alien butts for attacking us” or follow the Prime Directive; why all male characters sport bulging musculature like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s; or why a married couple, the Bickleys (based on the 1940s radio comedy sketch The Bickersons, starring Don Ameche, Lew Parker, and Frances Langford), keep fighting with each other in front of others, even during bridge duty, while clad in superhero-like capes and long-sleeve bodysuits… well, now you know.
That doesn’t mean the miniseries isn’t enjoyable. The artwork is excellent (the Bickleys’ silliness aside), and it’s really only the first two issues that seem off the mark character-wise; these are followed by a fantastic three-part storyline featuring Q, which mentions the events of both “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q,” indicating the creators had been exposed to episodes of the TV show before those issues’ release, granting them a better handle on the characters and concepts. The jump in quality is noticeable, and it should be stressed that the DC creators were in no way to blame for the first two tales’ “offness.” It was just the nature of how licensed comics were done back in the day.
The first issue, about a world where the populace grows from adulthood to childhood, has no direct connections to specific episodes of The Next Generation, though it does share plot similarities with the aforementioned “The Counter-Clock Incident,” in which Kirk’s crew discovers a universe in which humans age backwards. Christmas-themed issue #2 features an alien species drawn like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch chasing an incorporeal entity resembling Santa Claus. The Grinches even try to metaphorically steal Christmas by draining the spirit’s celebratory essence. (Silly, you say? Bah humbug.)
Q’s return in issues #3–5 is the miniseries’ high point. The trickster recruits Tasha Yar’s childhood tormentor, Reglech D’Pru, as a pawn to test crew reactions to the unknown. When Picard declines to play along with Q’s antics, the starship’s saucer section and civilians vanish into the Q Continuum. D’Pru tries to rape Yar (“Hey, kids, comics!”), and when she refuses to kill him, the impressed Continuum banish their “tainted” member, removing Q’s powers.
Unwilling to live as a mortal, Q attempts suicide via phaser but inadvertently kills La Forge. A grief-stricken Data (no emotion chip, I know, but keep in mind when this was written) pummels Q to a pulp, and he faints from pain while begging to die. Reglech threatens the crew at phaser-point until Q sacrifices himself to save the rest, thereby earning a place once more among his own kind, who restore Geordi’s life. If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it would become the premise of “Déjà Q,” an episode that would air a year later, with Q being stripped of his powers, growing suicidal over his inability to accept mortality, then sacrificing himself to save the crew due to interactions with Data, and thus being welcomed back into the Continuum. It’s a fair bet someone at the studio was reading the comics, as the parallels are substantial.
Throughout this entertaining storyline, Q frequently changes outfits just as he does onscreen, and actor John De Lancie’s voice shines through in the dialogue. It’s intriguing to note that the Continuum is portrayed as a region of hyperspace, with the Q’s grip on the Enterprise manifesting as giant clawed hands, à la Apollo in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Voyager would portray the realm quite differently. Oddly, Q claims his assignment, in “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q,” had been to bring humanity into the Q by putting them through tests to prove their worth. This could indicate the writer had perceived the Continuum as a grouping of worlds like the Federation. On TV, there’s no indication the Q ever sought to elevate humanity to their level.
Reglech D’Pru, a character unique to DC’s miniseries, allowed Carlin to explore facets of Yar’s past—specifically, rape gangs—mentioned in “The Naked Now” and “Where No One Has Gone Before.” A flashback to her home colony portrays the settlement as lawless and dangerous, though aesthetically different from how the world would appear in “Legacy.” Reglech is said to have been a frequent tormentor who enjoyed hearing Yar scream as he molested the teen, knowing no one would come to her aid. This gruesome expansion upon what fans knew of Tasha’s background, as well as her horror at having to face her former rapist, makes her tragic life and eventual fate that much more heartbreaking.
The final issue ties in with several episodes of The Next Generation. The Enterprise visits Faltos, a world on another plane of reality, the location of which Noonian Soong—Data’s creator, as revealed in “Datalore”—had hidden in the android’s memory files. Faltos’s inhabitants hail from many worlds but cannot leave, until Beverly Crusher and Chief Engineer Argyle (“Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Lonely Among Us,” and “Datalore”) access Soong’s files and find a way out. The plot bears similarities with that of the 1970s cartoon’s “The Time Trap,” in which Federation and Klingon crews end up in a domain of stranded ships whose inhabitants believe escape to be impossible. It’s an old trope, in fact—the “Sargasso Sea of Space”—one utilized by many Star Trek novels, comics, and episodes, as well as by several classic Battlestar Galactica comics.
One inhabitant of this reality pocket is identified as a member of the crystalline entity’s species, despite his being a bipedal humanoid, not a giant mass of crystal as seen in “Datalore” and “Silicon Avatar.” According to this issue, the malevolent entity on TV was an inhabitant of Faltos who’d actually created the planet before escaping to Picard’s plane of existence. Soong had learned the secret of Faltos from the creature, then had hidden this information inside Data’s positronic brain. How or why the scientist accomplished this is unexplained, but it doesn’t jibe with the creature’s onscreen portrayal.
An unexpected connection to The Original Series is that Bele (a black-and-white Cheron portrayed by Frank Gorshin in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”) now resides in the other dimension. Bele’s coloring is reversed from his skin pattern on TV, though, which violates the entire point of the episode (he and Lokai are mirror images of each other, spotlighting how ludicrous their racial bigotry is), and he is drawn as a giant, unlike the average-heighted Gorshin. Though offered a chance to leave Faltos, the Cheron opts to remain there since his homeworld is dead and he has found happiness, providing closure to a memorable character from the 1960s show. Whether or not he ever managed to murder Lokai before departing his birth-world is unknown.
Our discussion of DC Comics’ first Star Trek foray concludes next week as we reach author Peter David’s revered run—but there’s far more to DC’s story, for brand-new monthly titles based on both The Original Series and The Next Generation would be right around the corner, each bringing to the table a plethora of sequels, prequels, and tie-ins. Make it so.
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.