An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
32: Unlicensed International Comics, 1970s–1990s
Unauthorized comic books occupy an odd corner of fandom within any franchise. Quality varies drastically, for while some tales are beautifully drawn and skillfully written, others seem cobbled together by creative teams displaying little attention to detail or familiarity with the properties they’re adapting.
When it comes to unlicensed Star Trek comics from the 1970s to the 1990s, both extremes exist—which is to be expected, given the lack of editorial oversight from copyright owner Paramount Pictures. Setting their inconsistent quality aside, though, what makes such comics worth collecting is that most are quite rare. Those published outside the United States are largely unknown to the English-speaking readership, making them gems that few will ever possess.
Foreign-made comics have a niche following, often featuring unusual or stylish cover art and frequently taking wild liberties with source material. This is especially true of comics produced in Indonesia, a hotbed of unauthorized products due to a lack of legal restrictions governing that nation’s publishing industry. Indonesian-language comics have featured characters from both the Marvel and DC superhero universes, as well as Planet of the Apes, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and many other franchises. If it’s popular in the English-speaking world, there’s a good chance someone in Indonesia has made a comic based on it, and without permission to do so.
At least four unlicensed Trek comics were produced in that country: three containing original stories, the other adapting a television episode, and none of them have been published in English. There could even be more, given the regrettable lack of an online database for Indonesian comics in general. As any devout collector knows, it’s never safe to assume one has everything; new items will inevitably come to light, causing die-hard “must have it all” types (like yours truly) to obsessively begin searching anew. If you decide to track these comics down, keep in mind that this regularly updated index might not be all-inclusive in terms of unlicensed lore that has yet to surface.
Star Trek: Planet Kembar (English title: Twin Planets) was an original story published by Penerbit Cypress in 1979. That same year, Cypress released Star Trek Serial: Duel Maut Di Vulkan (“Death Duel on Vulcan”), an abridged (but faithful) adaptation of the episode “Amok Time.” The publisher of the third and fourth comics, Star Trek: Kedundorn and the misspelled Star Treck (credited to someone named “Yan”), is unknown, but it could well have been Cypress, since the company produced many of Indonesia’s comic-book knockoffs back in the day. No other writers or artists are credited for these issues, though it’s been suggested that Planet Kembar may have been edited by Korrie Layun Rampan.
Unlike many unlicensed comics, Planet Kembar is engaging and poetically written. The story involves a society in which men and women live separated on different worlds (Maskular and Femilar) for most of their lives, until an appointed time each month when they eagerly get together and… well… have wild orgies for procreation. Why anyone in their right mind would want to live that way is unknown, but it seems most citizens are happy with the arrangement (though naturally not as happy as they are during the monthly mating mania).
As the scheduled sexcapade season commences, neighboring Terrax invades the Twin Planets while their pants are down, both figuratively and literally, illustrating once again that sex often equates to death in science fiction. Star Trek‘s connection to this soft-porn extravaganza, you ask? Terrax, it seems, is an ally to the Klingon Empire.
After a month without any contact from the Twin Planets, the Enterprise arrives to investigate, a full 16 pages into this 42-page sex story. The Terraxian Emperor orders Femilar’s sexy, enslaved, Barbarella-like leadership to seduce the starship crew so he can deliver them to his Klingon overlords. If this were an adult film of the era, cheesy music would be playing, with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy dressed like muscular pool boys. But despite its overtly sexual undertones, Planet Kembar is an enjoyable yarn mostly in synch with televised Trek (well, other than a bizarre panel claiming Spock has a “warrior soul” that won’t allow him to fight women).
Death Duel on Vulcan is quite well-drawn, recognizably evoking the characters and atmosphere of “Amok Time” in every panel. Anyone familiar with unauthorized Indonesian comics will understand how atypical that is of the genre. The adaptation was clearly put together by a creative team who cared about quality, and it’s a shame the comic was never licensed for publication in English, as its cover artwork, depicting T’Pring watching as Spock nearly kills Kirk in combat, is quite eye-catching.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Kedundorn. This four-page story seems to have been published in the early 1980s, given the Enterprise crew’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan-style uniforms. The colorist, unfortunately, had apparently not watched that film, as the uniforms are not maroon but rather a gaudy lime green that makes them look utterly absurd. The simplistic plot involves a planet inhabited by people who resemble Shrek, who ask Kirk and Spock to save them from the deadly Kedundorn. The vicious beast is drawn like Godzilla if he were made of chewed-up bubblegum.
Nonsensical, uncharacteristic dialogue (“This creature is still expanding! You know, like when a hen broods on a chicken egg!”) hammers home how ridiculous this thankfully short tale is, with Kirk depicted as an obsessed lunatic who cares little for Spock’s advice and just wants to go out and kill himself a monster. When the uniforms inexplicably turn brown, it’s doubtful readers even care—and when the story changes from color to black-and-white on page three, that doesn’t matter much either.
Finally, there’s Star Treck, a silly tale about Kirk fighting robots. There’s not much to say about this one-story-wise, though Kirk hilariously forgets until the final page that Spock was badly injured by a giant creature at the beginning. The most noteworthy aspect of it is that the comic is surprisingly tiny. Unlike typical U.S. comics, these four Indonesian issues vary widely in size, from the massive Death Duel on Vulcan to the palm-sized Star Treck. If they are indeed all from Cypress, that makes this all the more amusing.
In addition to the four comic books, at least five uncut comic-strip trading-card sheets exist, three shamelessly stealing panels from Marvel’s post-The Motion Picture series, the other two containing original (if outlandishly disjointed) tales. Such sheets may seem like an oddity for English-speaking comic fans, but they were popular in Indonesia for a variety of franchises—many, of course, unlicensed. Sheet #1 was based on Marvel’s issue #7 (“Tomorrow or Yesterday”), sheet #2 utilized issue #11 (“Like a Woman Scorned”), and sheet #3 derived from issue #12 (“Eclipse of Reason”). Locating these card sheets is no easy feat (and, again, there could be more out there), but they’re quite a prize if you can find them.
It’s the two original card sheets that take the cellular peptide cake. The first, containing 50 numbered panels, sees the Enterprise visiting the planet Mars, which is inexplicably blue in color and contains a ring like Saturn’s. There, the crew helps a village of Japanese humans (who dress like samurai and geishas for some reason) defeat blue-skinned Martian invaders, a magician named Yamato, and an army of killer robots… or something like that. In truth, it’s difficult to determine what exactly is going on from one panel to the next, due to the stilted, non-grammatical captions.
The other card is equally silly. The Enterprise visits the planet Morpha (a name that would be right at home in a Gold Key Star Trek comic or in the British comic strips), where the crew battles dinosaur-like creatures and ends up shot with tranquilizer darts. The planet’s king, who looks like a Flash Gordon villain cosplaying as Dick Grayson’s Robin, and who drives a retro-style red car one might see in a Dick Tracy strip, takes them hostage, but they’re rescued almost immediately… or something. At only 25 panels in length, this tale is even more difficult to follow than the previous one.
That matters not, however. The appeal of these card sheets (which are undated but were presumably made in the 1970s or ’80s) isn’t in their display of literary and artistic brilliance, nor in their reverence for Star Trek‘s aesthetics. Such considerations are moot since such characteristics are entirely absent—these stories are so off-base and childish that the Star Trek comic strips packaged in Kenner’s Give-a-Show Projector, McDonalds’ Happy Meal boxes, and Larami’s Star Trek Space Viewer seem like Shakespeare by comparison. Rather, it’s for the quaint and curious corner of Trek history they inhabit, and the fact that the vast majority of fans have no idea they exist—and would likely never find them, even if they did.
Then there’s Antarctic Press’s Star Trekker, published in 1991 and 1992. From the 1980s to the 1990s, Antarctic produced a handful of goofy Trek parodies in the pages of Extremely Silly Comics and Ninja High School. Alongside these was Star Trekker, comprising a trade paperback and two additional issues of Japanese dōjinshi (self-published) manga comics written and illustrated by Atelier Lana. When Antarctic repackaged Lana’s work for U.S. consumption, the company labeled the series as a parody to avoid copyright-infringement accusations, but that defense didn’t really hold up, and anyone who read it could readily see why.
The problem? Although humorous in tone, Lana’s stories were set in-universe, using actual names from the shows and films, and they were being sold in stores throughout the United States. This wasn’t a MAD or Cracked magazine spoof—this was Star Trek fan fiction, even if it was of a silly nature, and it carried a price tag, meaning it violated U.S. copyright law. It’s surprising that Antarctic would have agreed to publish Lana’s work, knowing full well the legal hot water it could find itself in were Paramount to get wind of it—which it did.
What’s not surprising is Paramount’s swift response. The studio viewed the title as infringing and threatened a lawsuit, resulting in only three editions being released. It’s probably for the best, because Star Trekker, while well-meaning, didn’t really work, either as actual Star Trek or as a Star Trek parody. It was a weird conglomeration of both that, ultimately, succeeded as neither. Decades later, Antarctic would return to unlicensed Star Trek comics with Airship Enterprise, a Steampunk-style pastiche funded via Kickstarter, which was far more effective—but that’s a story for a future column.
Next time, Star Trek Comics Weekly senter the Gamma Quadrant for the first installment of Malibu Comics’ Deep Space Nine. See you on the other side of the wormhole.
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 or contributed to dozens of books about pop culture. He edited 70 volumes of Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, contributed to IDW’s Star Trek 400th Issue, and currently writes for Titan’s Star Trek Explorer magazine. Rich helped to produce IDW’s five Star Trek comic strip reprint hardcovers, and he penned an essay about those strips for Sequart’s New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics. In addition, he was a columnist for Star Trek Communicator magazine and a consultant on GIT Corp.’s Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection, and he contributed to Modiphius’s Star Trek Adventures: Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide.