An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
24: DC Comics, 1991
This week, a fundraiser was posted to help author Peter David, who has suffered a string of health issues. I’ve been privileged to collaborate with Peter, and he generously provided me with unpublished materials for inclusion in the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection back when I edited that series. (Much to my frustration, those materials remain unpublished, since Eaglemoss went out of business before we could make them available to fans.) So with the best of wishes to the immensely talented Star Trek scribe and his family, let’s revisit one of Peter’s more entertaining stories: The Modala Imperative.
Peter David’s departure as the writer of DC Comics’ monthly Star Trek comic book left a hole in the hearts of fans who’d come to adore his work. David had adeptly mixed tight plotting, a sharp wit, an admirable ability to write in every character’s voice, plenty of action sequences, and a strong connection to onscreen lore. Meanwhile, Michael Jan Friedman was thrilling readers with a regular dose of Star Trek: The Next Generation that hit it out of the park, month after month. To see the one-two punch of David and Friedman lose half its oomph was disappointing (though Howard Weinstein proved a worthy successor in chronicling the adventures of James T. Kirk and company).
When it was announced that David would be coming back to Star Trek to write a special new story, that helped ease the pain of losing him on the monthly title. The fact that he would be collaborating with Friedman on a storyline combining both iterations was a great bonus. DC’s eight-issue Star Trek: The Modala Imperative, co-written by Friedman and David, was edited by Robert Greenberger. The crossover miniseries comprised two connected four-part tales, one based on The Original Series and the other picking up a century later with The Next Generation. The entire story was then collected in trade paperback format.
The two stories were published concurrently, which meant fans could begin reading the 24th-century chapters at the same time that they read those set in the 23rd century, even though one storyline led into the other. Intriguingly, rather than taking the obvious route of having Peter David focus on Kirk’s crew and Mike Friedman handle Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise, the two authors switched their usual places. Throughout, the artwork was handled by Pablo Marcos, providing visual continuity that helped to tie the two together as a single narrative.
In the 23rd-century portion, the Enterprise visits Modala to determine whether the planet is ready for first contact, but the once-peaceful Modalans now live under the rule of the fascist Krisaians. Several Enterprise personnel are arrested as rebels and learn that the tyrants seized control using weapons more advanced than anything on Modala. Kirk advises his fellow prisoners to resist their oppressors without killing.
Eventually, the starship crew escapes, and Kirk holds off inviting Modala to join the Federation, in the hope that the rebels will overthrow the regime. The mystery of why the Krisaians have such atypically advanced weapons is left for Picard’s crew to figure out. Unfortunately, the simultaneous publishing schedule spoiled this cliffhanger, since readers already knew the Ferengi were the perpetrators from having begun reading the second half—and the trade paperback collection ruined that reveal right on the cover.
A century later, the Ferengi return to claim Modala according to their deal with the Krisaians, who have been deposed in the interim and thus cannot deliver on the bargain. Meanwhile, the democratic government celebrates a century of freedom and invites past and present Enterprise personnel to attend. McCoy and Spock are reunited en route to the ceremony and are caught in the crossfire when the Ferengi attempt to capture Picard and the Enterprise. Picard offers DaiMon Tran a deal: personal combat, with his vessel at stake. Tran loses the fight, then the Ferengi depart Modala, leaving the planet free once more.
In essence, The Modala Imperative is an eight-chapter tie-in to a pair of two-part episodes of The Next Generation: “Encounter at Farpoint,” the show’s pilot, which featured a cameo by DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy at age 137, and “Unification,” which brought Leonard Nimoy’s Spock into the 24th century as a Vulcan ambassador secretly working toward bridging the gap between his world and Romulus. In depicting events taking place on the same world a century apart, from the viewpoints of both Kirk’s and Picard’s crews, The Modala Imperative not only connected the (at the time) two Star Trek crews in a single story, but also provided a vehicle for reuniting old friends and celebrating the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
The opportunity to depict elderly McCoy and Spock interacting was clearly one of the driving motivations behind the miniseries, and their scenes together are among the story’s best. Old McCoy is as cranky and irreverent as ever, and he notes that he’s had most of his bodily organs replaced, enabling him to live long beyond normal human life expectancy, kind of like Doc Brown in Back to the Future, Part II. Meanwhile, Spock’s logical façade is seasoned by decades of maturity and by his having come to grips with his emotional human heritage.
These are very much the Bones of “Encounter at Farpoint” and the Spock of “Unification,” and the rest of the story is largely just a reason to get these two characters onto the stage together in their twilight years. That’s not to say the story isn’t enjoyable, because there’s a lot to praise about The Modala Imperative. The Ferengi are surprisingly menacing compared to their typical buffoonery on The Next Generation. Let’s face it: the Ferengi may have been loads of fun on Deep Space Nine, but on The Next Generation, they were more often monkey-like misfires.
DaiMon Tran is a formidable enemy, and his willingness to fight Picard one-on-one using a Ferengi challenge cube makes him one of the few Ferengi characters to show no trace of the species’ usual cowardice. The cube contains a malevolent lifeform that hates to be touched and thus tortures anyone who holds it, which is a cool concept for a weapon. In Picard’s case, this means hitting him with visions of Q, the Borg, and other past enemies.
Deanna Troi, meanwhile, manages to deliver a Vulcan neck pinch thanks to a mind-meld with Spock, giving the oft-underutilized counselor the rare opportunity to save the day. The fact that she’s as surprised about this as McCoy is makes the scene work even more. And Kirk’s scenes with a young Pavel Chekov highlight how entertaining these two characters can be when paired together, something the filmmakers would later play up to great effect in Star Trek Beyond. The comic also sets the stage for a budding friendship between Chekov and his bridge-mate, Hikaru Sulu.
The vibrant covers by Adam Hughes and Karl Story pop off the page, and the innovative art technique used to depict planets in space evokes the aesthetic of The Original Series‘ planetary establishing shots in a way that comic book artwork often does not. Nonetheless, the main reason to read this miniseries is to revel in watching as elderly Spock and McCoy revisit the sparring of their younger days, showing that in space, at least, there just might be country for old men.
The Modala Imperative references characters from multiple TV episodes. Kirk notes, in a captain’s log, that when he’d last been to Modala, the Enterprise had been commanded by Christopher Pike (“The Cage” and “The Menagerie”—and pretty much everywhere else these days). He realizes Chekov views him as a hero, just as a younger Kirk had idolized Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”). And he draws upon his experience thwarting Kor’s occupation force on Organia (“Errand of Mercy”) to teach Modalan rebels how to create problems for their overlords. The miniseries also brings back several familiar faces among Kirk’s crew, including Doctor M’Benga (“A Private Little War,” “That Which Survives,” and Strange New Worlds), Lieutenant Spinelli (“Space Seed”), and Yeoman Mears (“The Galileo Seven”).
In Picard’s era, McCoy reminisces about the many facets he’d seen of Spock’s personality during their decades-long association, such as witnessing Spock both murderous and ecstatic during koon-ut-kal-if-fee (“Amok Time”), and both dying and reborn in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The good doctor jokes that he and Spock look far older than they did when they’d suffered from rapid-aging illness (“The Deadly Years”), an amusing commentary on the folly of attempting to predict how an actor will look decades in the future when applying age makeup.
Doctor Selar, an Enterprise-D physician introduced in “The Schizoid Man,” reveals that her grandfather served aboard the USS Intrepid (“The Immunity Syndrome”) when it was destroyed by the giant amoeba in that episode. And while chatting with McCoy, Picard recalls how much he’d hated being mistaken for a god on Mintaka III (“Who Watches the Watchers?”). McCoy jokes that Jim Kirk would have loved it—which may be true, given how he took to the role of Kirok in “The Paradise Syndrome.”
The miniseries confirms something at which The Next Generation‘s “Sarek” had only hinted. Picard, in that episode, mentioned having attended the wedding of Sarek’s son. Although he never specifically named Spock, it seemed unlikely that Sarek would have gone to a wedding for the disowned Sybok, leaving Spock the only logical choice. Here, McCoy mentions Spock’s wife, indicating that this was, indeed, to whom Picard had been referring. (The wife’s identity is not revealed. We can rule out Valeris, it’s safe to say.)
The Modala Imperative incorporates two classic ruses from onscreen Trek, one from each generation. In “The Enterprise Incident,” Spock and Kirk had devised a fictitious maneuver called the Vulcan death grip in order to trick the Romulans into believing Kirk to be dead. Here, Spock bluffs a Ferengi invasion force by threatening to kill them all using the same maneuver—which he even claims he can do remotely, one-upping his prior use of the ruse—if they refuse to surrender their claim on Modala.
The other is from “Ménage à Troi,” in which Picard pretended to be Luwaxana Troi’s jealous lover to scare the Ferengi into returning Luwaxana and Deanna to the Enterprise. Troi is again captured in The Modala Imperative, and Tran, having heard about Picard’s passionate love for her mother, decides that Deanna, though a valuable bargaining chip, is someone for whom Picard would kill to protect, making her a dangerous hostage.
McCoy claims that in his day, starships didn’t have holodecks. While that is technically true, Kirk’s Enterprise did feature a recreation room containing similar technology, as shown in The Animated Series‘ “The Practical Joker.” We won’t get into a discussion of whether or not the cartoon is canon (it is—thank you, Lower Decks), because what matters is that it was highly enjoyable and has been referenced many times in other Star Trek shows and movies. At the time of this miniseries, however, Paramount had forbidden licensees from referencing The Animated Series, which is why McCoy no longer recalls having hung out on a holodeck with Uhura and Sulu.
Finally, The Modala Imperative, as a bridging of two generations of Star Trek, fittingly presages Star Trek: Generations. As Spock and McCoy discuss their impressions of Picard, Bones wonders how well he would have gotten along with Kirk. This miniseries was released two years prior to the movie, in which the two captains would meet—and in which Kirk would die. Despite not knowing this was coming, Peter David had the two friends discuss Kirk in the past tense, showing impressive prescience on his part. It’s interesting to note that McCoy decides Kirk and Picard would have hated each other, yet the two would bond in friendship onscreen while defeating Tolian Soran.
Next time, this column will return to DC’s Kirk-era monthly comic and revisit one of the most highly regarded Star Trek stories ever told: Chris Claremont’s graphic novel Debt of Honor. If you’ve read the latter, then you know that when it comes to prequels, sequels, and tie-ins, Debt of Honor is a fan’s dream. See you then.
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.