Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #42

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

42: International Comics, 1973–1985

This week, we interrupt our chronological exploration of five decades’ worth of Star Trek comic books and return once more to the era of bell-bottom trousers and lava lamps. It’s time for another look at Trek comics produced outside the United States.

Previous columns have discussed the British Star Trek strips of the 1960s and ’70s, as well as unlicensed Trek comics from Indonesia and Japan, and Gold Key fans might recall how that comic line was repackaged in World Distributors’ British hardcovers and TV Comic magazine. As it happens, there were also licensed Trek comics produced in Germany and Brazil. If you weren’t aware of the latter, don’t feel bad. Until recently, neither was I—and that says a lot, considering I made this.

The German comics were a series of fumetti (photo-comic) adaptations offered in the pages of Gong magazine, similar to the Star Trek Fotonovels produced by Mandala Productions and Bantam Books from 1977 to 1978, as well as IDW’s Star Trek: New Visions comics from John Byrne. Gong, a magazine devoted to television, was basically Germany’s analogue to the United States’ TV Guide, but with comic strips. That makes it akin as well to Britain’s Look-In and France’s Télé Junior publications, both of which published exclusive and licensed Battlestar Galactica comic strips (someday, I might start another ongoing column discussing Galactica comics… maybe).

Bang a gong, get it on, with German Star Trek comics.

Each of Bantam’s Fotonovels appeared in a novel-sized paperback digest containing hundreds of photo stills from a given episode, providing a great way for English-speaking fans to revisit episodes that had only been in syndication for half a dozen years at the time, in an age long before technology afforded multiple home-viewing options. The Gong adaptations, on the other hand, were serialized in the German magazine with only a single page per weekly issue, meaning it took months to finish each episode. (It’s a mercy that Gong never adapted “The Alternative Factor.” Lazarus’s story spread over several months would have been excruciating.)

These strips were offered concurrent with The Original Series‘ debut on West-German public broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). The British strips, published in Joe 90: Top Secret, TV21, and Valiant, had also appeared weekly, at a rate of two or three pages per installment. As was the case for British viewers, the Gong strips represented the first exposure to Star Trek for many German fans of that era.

Ruk the android–now in neon!

Gong adapted ten episodes between 1973 and 1975, then added the first three theatrical films in 1981, 1983, and 1985, respectively. Pocket Books published Fotonovel-like Star Trek Photostory books for the first two movies in 1980 and 1982, but only Gong produced fumetti versions of the second and third films. (Pocket’s Star Trek II Photostory utilized text printed on or near images instead of in speech bubbles, preventing it from being a true fumetti.) The episodes and movies adapted were as follows:

  1. “Gefangen in der Vergangenheit” (“The City on the Edge of Forever,” 20 weeks)
  2. “Der Teufel im Dunkel” (“The Devil in the Dark,” 16 weeks)
  3. “Die tödlichen Spiele” (“Plato’s Stepchildren,” 18 weeks)
  4. “Der Planet der schrecklichen Kinder” (“Miri,” 19 weeks)
  5. “Psycho-Terror” (“Spectre of the Gun,” 17 weeks)
  6. “Das grosse Verbrechen des Mr. Spock” (“The Menagerie,” 34 weeks)
  7. “Angst im Weltraum” (“Balance of Terror,” 15 weeks)
  8. Enterprise im Wunderland” (“Shore Leave,” 18 weeks)
  9. “Der unheimliche Herrscher” (“The Return of the Archons,” 15 weeks)
  10. “Die Menschenfabrik” (“What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, 18 weeks)
  11. Star Trek – Der Film (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 32 weeks)
  12. Star Trek Der Zorn des Khan (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 48 weeks)
  13. Star Trek Auf der Suche nach Mr. Spock (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 47 weeks)

That’s right, it took eight months for readers to complete “The Menagerie,” another eight months for The Motion Picture, and almost a year apiece for The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Let it never be said that German Star Trek fans are not patient people.

Star Trek III: The Search for a Translator

What makes these adaptations fascinating is that they ran only in Germany, predated the Mandala series by four years, and adapted episodes not included in the Fotonovels—and, most intriguingly, that the editorial team swapped out the heads of numerous guest stars. Instead of featuring Joan Collins as Edith Keeler in “The City on the Edge of Forever,” for instance, Gong‘s version showed a different woman in the role—and renamed her Eva Light. Also replaced were Jeffrey Hunter (Christopher Pike) and Susan Oliver (Vina) in “The Menagerie,” Kim Darby (Miri) and Michael J. Pollard (Jahn) in “Miri,” and others.

In Germany, the virus actually changed Miri’s face.

On the other hand, the depictions of Galt and Shahna (“The Gamesters of Triskelion”), Philip Boyce (“The Menagerie”), the Romulan Commander (“Balance of Terror”), Reger and Marplon (“The Return of the Archons”), and Ruk (“What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) all retained the original performers’ likenesses, as did those from the films. This is a good indicator that for characters whose faces were substituted, it was likely a question of which actors’ likeness rights Gong was able to obtain.

Were Pike and Vina altered due to likeness rights… or Talosian illusions?

Queen’s University’s Caroline-Isabelle Caron, who is researching the replacement actors’ identities for an academic project, suggests they may have been among a group of actors who specialized in being photographed for original photonovels, a popular art form in the 1960s and ’70s (this began to change in the 1980s). “Yes, there were photonovel stars,” she notes. “All over Europe, they were very common, on top of regular celebrities. Their ‘loves and lives’ were recounted in carefully photographed and crafted stories. Singers, actors. Not too dissimilar from celebrity reality TV, when you think about it. And just as fictional.”

Somehow, McCoy’s time-tampering also tampered with Edith Keeler’s appearance.

In Brazil, meanwhile, Editora Abril published seven issues translating Gold Key Star Trek stories into Portuguese from 1975 to 1978, under the title Jornada Nas Estrelas. You can read more about the Brazilian comics at this Portuguese-language website. Five of the issues solely contained translated editions of Gold Key’s stories, but #4 and #5 are especially significant for collectors. Why? Because in addition to reprints, each contained an original story never published by Gold Key.

Apparently, Starfleet’s Brazilian branch really likes the color orange.

This makes those stories two of the rarest licensed Trek comics ever to feature exclusive material. Remarkably, the publisher went out of its way to mimic Gold Key’s storytelling tone and visual aesthetics, right down to lettering and coloring. This makes them the earliest Gold Key pastiches, predating those created for IDW by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, and Gordon Purcell (for Star Trek: Waypoint), as well as by John Byrne (for New Visions). If you’d bet money that I immediately tracked down both issues after learning they existed, then had them translated by a colleague in Brazil (shoutout to IoP Journal editor Edson Perin), you’d be a winner.

Now the crew have swapped out their orange uniforms for green.

Issue #4’s seven-page story, “O Exilado” (“The Exile”), sees the Enterprise drawn to a planet while passing through the constellation of Zorat toward the Satsam Galaxy (in the Gold Key days, the crew regularly traveled from one galaxy to the next, contrary to how space travel was handled onscreen). The starship is buffeted with “mental waves” and the crew discovers an injured pregnant woman. An incorporeal being named Drenam explains that the unborn child’s body houses Madad, an exile from Arek, the Mental Planet (before you laugh, remember that this is emulating Gold Key), who has been imprisoned in a primitive body and must live under adverse conditions so he’ll learn how to function in society. It’s a trippy tale, indeed.

Issue #5’s plot, meanwhile, is based on “The Return of the Archons.” Titled “A Hora Rubra” (“The Red Hour”), it follows the same basic premise as that episode, though with alterations to make it more Gold Key-like and to make it fit the comic’s eight-page length. These include the story taking place in another galaxy; the Lawgivers being evil robots rather than brainwashed humans; and Landru being a despotic tyrant, not a benevolent philosopher who sought to preserve his people by eliminating crime, disease, and war. Why these changes were made is anyone’s guess.

Robo-Lawgivers, because that’s how they did things in the Gold Key days…

Given how few Star Trek episodes have ever been adapted as a comic, it’s surprising that one of the less-noteworthy episodes, “The Return of the Archons,” would end up being adapted not only in German, but in Portuguese. It may be that this was one of the only episodes available in those countries at the time, similar to why Dave Bailey (“The Corbomite Maneuver”) ended up a main character in Joe 90: Top Secret. In any case, the Portuguese and German comics have largely been forgotten by today’s collectors, which is a shame. Thankfully, Eaglemoss allowed me to reprint both Jornada Nas Estrelas tales in the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, in volumes 129 and 136.

Landru is all-knowing and all-seeing, even in Brazil and Germany.

I hope you are all remaining safe, healthy, and isolated during this pandemic, and that you’re avoiding contact with the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, in order to avoid putting other lives in danger. Risk may be Jim Kirk’s business, but it’s not the business of your loved ones.

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

Rich Handley has written, co-written, co-edited, or contributed to dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Planet of the Apes, Watchmen, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Stargate, Dark Shadows, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Red Dwarf, Blade Runner, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman, the Joker, classic monsters, and more. He has also been a magazine writer and editor for nearly three decades. Rich edited Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, and he currently writes articles for Titan’s Star Trek Explorer magazine, as well as books for an as-yet-unannounced role-playing game. Learn more about Rich and his work at richhandley.com.

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