Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #26

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

26: DC Comics, 1992

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters in 1979, it opened with a Klingon crew facing against V’Ger—and audiences everywhere gasped at the sight. Unlike the 1960s Klingons, who’d looked like humans, these warriors each sported a lobster-like spinal column running along the top of their head, down to their nose. No explanation was provided, other than Gene Roddenberry joking in interviews that Klingons had always looked that way, but that primitive TVs had made it impossible to see.

Since then, Klingon makeup has changed many times, from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock replacing the identical lobster spines with uniquely individual bumps, to Star Trek: The Next Generation adding greater diversity and family resemblances, to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country making the ridges far smaller, to Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek: Discovery each drastically overhauling the design. Every iteration has altered the concept of the Klingon face and forehead, making the Klingons one of the most biologically diverse species in science fiction (see “Klingon of a Thousand Faces“). Fans have come to accept this aspect of the Klingons, just as they have with Andorians, Tellarites, and other Star Trek species.

So in 2005, when Star Trek: Enterprise‘s “Affliction” and “Divergence” offered an official explanation for the addition of ridges to the Klingon cranium, this was an unexpected delight… even if that explanation didn’t quite jibe with Kahless, Kor, Kang, and Koloth appearing as bumpy-heads in The Next Generation‘s “Rightful Heir” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath,” or with Ben Sisko’s crew not having heard of smooth-headed Klingons in “Trials and Tribble-ations.” Back in 1992, though, none of that had yet happened, so an in-universe reason for the altered foreheads remained elusive.

Enter Chris Claremont. The popular British comic book scribe, fresh off his landmark run on Marvel Comics’ Uncanny X-Men, penned a Star Trek graphic novel for DC Comics titled Debt of Honor that provided the first attempt to make sense of the existence of both smooth- and ridge-headed Klingons. In this story, Kor (Trek‘s first Klingon commander, from “Errand of Mercy”) joins forces with James Kirk and a Romulan named T’Cel (Kirk’s former lover, naturally, and the mother of his presumed daughter, T’Kir) to stop an insectoid alien menace that has been covertly attacking Federation, Klingon, and Romulan targets for decades with impunity.

Debt of Honor explains the Klingons’ forehead variations by revealing the existence of “two main branches of the Klingon race.” Kor’s people, those with smooth heads, are said to have been “banished to the farthest reaches of the Empire, stripped of the right to call ourselves Klingon” for political reasons once their ridged brethren rose in ascendency, sometime between The Original Series and The Motion Picture. That explanation has since been negated by the above episodes, but in 1992, this simple retcon was a godsend to fans, who could at last reconcile the two Klingon designs.

This patching of continuity holes was one of Claremont’s strengths during his X-Men days, and it suited him equally well on Star Trek. In Debt of Honor, for example, the writer mentioned Christopher Pike and Robert April (“The Cage” and “The Counter-Clock Incident”) as Kirk’s predecessors aboard the Enterprise, making him among the few pre-IDW comic writers to acknowledge The Animated Series as part of continuity. He also provided some background for Amanda Grayson (“Journey to Babel”), with Kirk growing fascinated with Vulcans during his USS Farragut days (“Obsession”) and reading several monographs written by Amanda, here described as a researcher. “This Side of Paradise” had identified her as a teacher, but the two fields are not mutually exclusive.

In an amusing exchange, Gillian Taylor (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), during a yachting vacation, teases Kirk that Nyota Uhura had called him “one spectacular kisser,” recalling when the two had been controlled by the telekinetic Platonians in “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Gillian is understandably astonished that someone would have to be forced to kiss the beautiful Uhura.

Taylor and Kirk check on George and Gracie, the humpback whales from her era, whose offspring is about to be born. Some online sources place Debt of Honor in the year 2289, but since Gracie gives birth to her calf, with which she was already “very pregnant” in Star Trek IV, the comic must take place soon after the movie’s events, indicating a 2286 placement. In a touching set of book-end scenes, Gillian helps Kirk deal with his decision to destroy his own starship, while he helps her adjust to life in a different century—each suffers from a form of survivor’s guilt and can thus empathize with the other’s pain.

During their time together, Kirk experiences nightmares of Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) cursing him to a long life filled with painful memories; of battling Kruge and sacrificing the Enterprise at the Genesis Planet (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock); and of losing his son David Marcus to Kruge in the latter. Hughes’ gorgeous artwork captures each sequence emotionally and dramatically, with dead-on character likenesses throughout.

Several former Enterprise crewmembers return to help Kirk thwart the insectoid menace. These include Kevin Riley (“The Naked Time” and “The Conscience of the King”), now a starship captain; Dave Bailey (“The Corbomite Maneuver”), who still works with Balok aboard the Fesarius as a liaison to the First Federation; Stiles (“Balance of Terror”), who still distrusts Romulans—and whose surname is confused with that of Styles, the Excelsior‘s captain from Star Trek III; Carolyn Palamas (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”); Garrovick (“Obsession”), here called Tom despite his cabin door identifying him as David Garrovick onscreen; and Mira Romaine (“The Lights of Zetar”), now serving as the chief archivist of Memory Alpha (the station, not the website). (Garrovick’s presence has since been retroactively rendered apocryphal by Star Trek: Prodigy‘s “All the World’s a Stage,” which revealed that he’d died not long after “Obsession.”)

The fact that they all pose on the same page, with Kirk name-checking each in turn, is a bit heavy-handed—and, if truth be told, they don’t contribute much to the story—but it’s a greatly nostalgic moment nonetheless. Security Chief Giotto (“The Devil in the Dark”) appears as well, still serving under Kirk after two decades. In addition, Kirk seeks help from Richard Daystrom (“The Ultimate Computer”), who rigs up an artificial intelligence to mimic the Enterprise crew’s personalities and make it seem as though they’re still orbiting Earth, enabling them to covertly combat the aliens without Starfleet’s knowledge. Hopefully, Daystrom received treatment following his nervous breakdown during the M-5 incident—and hasn’t implanted his own engrams as a model for the AI’s personality.

Claremont also brings back Jame Finney (Ben Finney’s daughter from “Court Martial”) and fleshes out her character beyond the scared young woman she’d once been, though her first name is misspelled as both “Jaime” and “Jamie”—a common error in Trek fiction and on fan websites. Since her father had disgraced their family, Jame had joined Starfleet to become an anthropologist specializing in Klingon culture, hoping to balance the scales with her own honorable deeds. She proves invaluable when Kirk’s and Kor’s crews stop the insectoids, then accepts an invitation to join Kor’s crew as a liaison between the Empire and the Federation. Jame’s depiction is among the book’s highlights, and she eventually returns in DC’s The Next Generation comic (to be discussed in a later column).

Much of the book is told through flashbacks, particularly to “The Doomsday Machine,” “Obsession,” and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, since the aliens tend to attack in the aftermaths of catastrophic events. One flashback occurs after Matt Decker dies aboard the USS Constellation fighting the Planet Killer, and McCoy compares Kirk’s obsession with destroying the aliens to Decker’s mindset in that story. Another flashback, set after the events of the first movie, sees the Enterprise cataloging the damage done by V’Ger.

Yet another flashback, to when the Farragut was incapacitated by the dikironium cloud, explores Kirk’s guilt at having failed to save Captain Garrovick from the creature. Claremont displays a degree of prescience during the Farragut segments, portraying Kirk and other officers as being uncomfortable about working with T’Cel, a Vulcan (her Romulan heritage had yet to be revealed). Although Debt of Honor was released a decade before Enterprise‘s pilot, this jibes with how that TV series would portray interactions between humans and Vulcans before The Original Series.

Throughout Debt of Honor, Kirk comes to grips with personal demons that have plagued him for decades. The graphic novel is based on friendship, obsession, loyalty, and… well… honor, and it stands as one of DC Comics’ finest Star Trek offerings. It’s a must-read for those who enjoy prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to onscreen Trek, for it mines the events of Kirk’s career as he tries to atone for his perceived failures. It’s fitting, then, that at the story’s end, Kirk and Gillian Taylor enjoy a bottle of Chateau Picard, thus passing the baton to another brave starship captain with demons of his own. Next week, we’ll pick up that baton and examine more of DC’s adventures for Jean-Luc Picard and company.

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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