Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #21

An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…

21: DC Comics, 1989–1990 

Although DC Comics had added Star Trek: The Next Generation to its lineup with a 1988 miniseries from writer Michael Carlin and artists Pablo Marcos, Carlos Garzon, and Arne Starr, Jean-Luc Picard and his crew wouldn’t receive their first ongoing title until a year later, when DC launched monthly comics based on both The Next Generation and the film era of The Original Series gang. The result was one of the most consistently well-written long-running Star Trek comic lines ever published.

Marcos remained aboard as the series’ regular artist, accompanied by Gordon Purcell in two issues, while novelist Michael Jan Friedman replaced Carlin as the series’ monthly scribe. Friedman remained with the title until its final issue, earning an honored spot among Star Trek‘s most prolific comic authors to date, alongside Howard Weinstein, Mike Johnson, and the brother writing team of Scott and David Tipton.

DC’s ST:TNG #1-12

Friedman set his stories between episodes of The Next Generation‘s TV adventures, using stardates, casting changes, and onscreen plot developments to make it easy for readers to follow the passage of time. DC helpfully published periodic timelines showing when not only the comics, but also Pocket Books’ novels, took place in relation to specific episodes. The inaugural miniseries had erroneously utilized season-two stardates despite taking place near the start of season one, but that problem was fixed on the timelines, enabling those six issues to remain in DC’s continuity (even if no one would ever reference their events again).

Friedman’s run began during season two and thus featured Kate Pulaski among the main cast, though it wasn’t long before a transition to season three stories saw the return of Beverly Crusher. As time went on, Wesley Crusher left the comic as he did on television, while Ro Laren joined the lineup and Miles O’Brien left to star in his own series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. O’Brien would continue to show up in comics—just not at DC. (More on that in later columns.)

James McRobb: DC Comics’ proto-Barclay

Down the line, Friedman would heavily mine TV continuity, bringing back a plethora of fan-favorite characters and offering much in the way of sequels, prequels, and tie-ins. His first dozen issues, however, were largely standalone tales with few direct connections to what was airing week to week. These early chapters added several original characters, including insecure engineer James McRobb and young Randy Stockton. McRobb’s determination to prove his worth as more than an engineer was endearing, if admittedly superfluous, while Randy’s friendship with Data provided some cute moments, retaining the android’s early-days Pinocchio motif by depicting how Data was perceived through the eyes of a real, live boy.

Unfortunately, the same corporate edict that resulted in Arex, M’Ress, Konom, Nancy Bryce, William Bearclaw, R.J. Blaise, and others being removed from DC’s sister title soon brought about the exits of McRobb and Randy as well. It’s too bad; they might not have been overly vital to the comic, but both characters had their moments, particularly McRobb—and they were certainly far more palatable than the miniseries’ Bickleys. It’s probably just as well, though, for the show’s third season had introduced Reginald Barclay in “Hollow Pursuits,” and the presence of two engineers suffering from self-esteem issues might have come off as redundant.

The USS Stargazer

The episode tie-ins in issues #1–9 were few and far between. In the first two chapters, Picard travels to the planet Raimon, which he’d last visited while commanding his former starship, the USS Stargazer, introduced in “The Battle.” There, he is reunited with a woman named Lutina, who’d been a young child at the time, and whom he’d given a necklace adorned with a model of that vessel. Issue #1 utilizes Worf’s holographic calisthenics program (introduced in “Where Silence Has Lease”), including a green variation of the skull-faced monster from that episode. McRobb, inspired by Worf’s hyper-testosterone nature, foolishly attempts to battle the skull creature and is soundly beaten within moments.

Klingons and their holo-monsters

One danger of writing licensed lore based on a television show still airing new episodes is that onscreen events can end up negating those presented on paper. Issue #5 avoids this common hazard, with Data commenting that he has never before experienced a dream. This could easily have been proven false had the TV show said otherwise, but as it happens, the android wouldn’t discover that capacity until four seasons later, in the “Birthright” two-parter, so DC and Friedman were fortunate in this case. Not so lucky would be the scripting of the first annual, discussed below.

Issue #7 references “Datalore,” with Data consoling Randy after the youth is teased by other children for not having a father, by explaining that he barely knew his own father, Noonian Soong. In hindsight, this scene carries greater relevance, since Soong would be reunited with his synthetic son in season four’s “Brothers,” airing only half a year later.

Randy Stockton

It’s the three-part tale published in issues #10–12 in which Friedman begins offering direct tie-ins to televised Trek, for it features the return of Phillipa Louvois, a prosecutor with the Judge Advocate General’s office, and Picard’s former love interest. Louvois had presided over a hearing to determine Data’s rights in the wonderfully written “The Measure of a Man,” and she now heads up a court-martial inquiry regarding the destruction of the USS Nairobi (perpetrated by an Enterprise doppelgänger), just as she’d once done following the Stargazer‘s loss.

The measure of a woman

Louvois would be the first of many returning guest characters, and it’s a shame she and Picard don’t have more time together here, as Friedman writes the character very well. Issue #10 seemingly alludes to “Contagion,” though this one is up for debate. In a flashback to Picard’s youth, a character named Donald consoles him for having failed to pass his Starfleet Academy entrance exam. No surname is provided, though this is presumably Donald Varley, an old friend from that episode.

Donald Varley, I presume…

Another flashback sequence depicts Picard’s fight with three Nausicaans that left him with a mechanical heart, per “Samaritan Snare” and “Tapestry.” This comic was released prior to the latter’s airing, which accounts for the aliens’ physical appearance differing from how they would be portrayed in “Tapestry,” and the fact that Picard is accompanied by different friends at the time of the brawl. It’s interesting that despite some variances, the sequences of events in the two accounts are rather similar, even though the writer-artist team could not possibly have viewed “Tapestry” since it didn’t yet exist.

Like all Starfleet, Picard talks and he talks, but he has no guramba.

The annual mentioned above is a Q-centric tale, co-written by actor John de Lancie, which examines Picard’s family history. The comic was published before Picard’s family members were named on television, so their names and personalities don’t jibe. His brother (Robert on TV, introduced in “Family”) is here called Claude Jr., while his parents (Maurice and Yvette, named in “Tapestry” and “Chain of Command,” respectively, and more recently featured in younger form on Star Trek: Picard) are known as Claude Sr. and Christine. That doesn’t make the annual less enjoyable, of course, for Friedman and de Lancie can hardly be faulted for not knowing about episodes not yet aired or even written. Readers can still appreciate the story’s quality by simply remembering that Q’s manipulations mean anything is possible.

Jean-Luc Picard’s plethora of parents

Q’s first four on-air appearances (“Encounter at Farpoint,” “Hide and Q,” “Q Who,” and “Déjà Q”) are referenced in the course of the annual, in which Q causes yet more havoc for the crew—and imparts a gift (of sorts) on Picard. The trickster creates an alternate timeline in which Picard’s brother Claude—said to have died of a broken neck at age six—survives to adulthood to become a sociopathic, Nazi-like dictator who corrupts Starfleet’s mission, conquers many worlds, and executes the Enterprise crew for acts of rebellion. Realizing the universe is far better off without Claude in it, Jean-Luc, freed from long-held guilt feelings over his brother’s death, asks Q to restore the timeline.

Claude and Robert: A tale of two brothers

The annual is a direct sequel to “Déjà Q,” in which Q was stripped of his powers and rendered human until Picard helped him regain his omnipotence, prompting the Continuum to welcome him back. Since that episode, Q has felt humiliated before his peers—yet he is also in Picard’s debt. Therefore, to simultaneously punish and thank the captain, Q grants him knowledge of what would have happened had Claude not died. The issue is a poignant and gripping tale that, albeit invalidated onscreen, adeptly combines numerous Trek tropes (time travel, alternate timelines, and omnipotent beings testing the crew) in a beautifully illustrated story with direct roots to on-air Star Trek.

It’s all fun and games until Q resurrects your sociopathic dead brother.

Next time, we’ll head back to the late 23rd century for some more adventures of James T. Kirk and company. See you on the final frontier.

Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:

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.

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