An ongoing discussion of how the comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the Star Trek episodes and films, soon to be a book from BearManor Media. Click here to view an archive of this article series.
52: Marvel Comics, 1996–1997
Malibu Comics’ efforts to launch a monthly comic book based on Star Trek: Voyager proved fruitless. The company had produced a two-part adaptation of the show’s pilot, “Caretaker,” but when Paramount nixed the idea, Malibu focused its efforts solely on Deep Space Nine. A year after the Malibu run concluded, Voyager finally made it to the four-color realm in 1996, courtesy of returning publisher Marvel Comics.
Edited by Bobbie Chase, Tim Tuohy, Chip Carter, Mark Paniccia, and Julio Soto, the series lasted for nineteen issues (fifteen monthly chapters, followed by a four-part miniseries) before Marvel’s titles all abruptly ended. This week, we’ll examine the first nine issues, written by Laurie S. Sutton (#1–3), Howard Weinstein (#4–5), Ben Raab (#6–8), and frequent collaborators Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett (#9), in terms of how they approached Star Trek prequels, sequels, and tie-ins.
The first eight issues were illustrated by Jesus Redondo, accompanied on seven chapters by Sergio Melia, while Terry Pallot and Al Milgrom drew the ninth. After five issues set in season two, the comic entered the third season as of #6, and the writers took time passage into account by featuring first Kes and later Seven of Nine (though not in the issues covered this week), and by bringing back such early adversaries as the Kazon (introduced in “Caretaker”), the Vidiians (“Phage”), and the Trabe (“Alliances”), before moving on to the Borg with Seven’s arrival.
The series opened with a three-parter in which the Voyager assists a Talaxian vessel caught in an ion storm. With tractor beams inoperative, Janeway uses the starship’s landing struts as a grappling hook to rescue the other ship—an innovative solution, all things considered—but the Talaxians vanish into a quantum fissure. What’s that, you ask? Why, it’s a spatial anomaly intersecting multiple quantum realities, first seen in The Next Generation‘s “Parallels.” Such a fissure caused Worf to enter a state of quantum flux and thus jump continuously from one universe to the next, and to develop a Klingon krush on Deanna Troi.
While Tom Paris steers the Voyager out of the maelstrom, Neelix and Chakotay enter the fissure to find the Talaxians, who are actually mercenaries working for the Trabe, and they take hostages. (This story was intended to feature the Kazon rather than the Trabe, but Paramount nixed the idea on the grounds that it would conflict with plans for season two’s “Basics.”) The Trabe attack the Voyager, but Janeway runs them out of space-town on their space-horse. By story’s end, the rogue Talaxians are incarcerated in the brig, never to be mentioned again, leaving readers to idly wonder whether they were ever dropped off on a planet or if they sat out the next several seasons in a jail cell.
Meanwhile, energy spikes induce radiation sickness in the starship’s bio-neural gel packs, causing the Doctor’s program to merge with the Beowulf holodeck simulation that Harry Kim created in the episode “Heroes and Demons.” Between this and the bacterial cheese subplot from “Learning Curve,” it becomes clear just how vulnerable bio-neural gel packs are to disease—and to leaving the crew helpless since they can’t be replicated when they go bad, which they inevitably do. Perhaps organic-based computer circuity isn’t the best way to go. Commodore Bob Wesley (“The Ultimate Computer”) would likely agree with that sentiment, whereas Richard Daystrom probably would not.
Due to the glitch, the Doctor (as Prince Beowulf) amusingly spouts poetry, including William Blake’s “The Tyger” and the Helen of Troy stanza from Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus. He also recites “Nightingale Woman” by Tarbolde, a passionate love sonnet that Gary Mitchell had quoted while seducing Elizabeth Dehner, providing a subtle connection to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
How do the crew cure the gel packs? With hyronalin, of course—an anti-radiation drug with which Leonard McCoy counteracted a rapid-aging sickness in “The Deadly Years.” This storyline also introduces a blonde transporter officer named Josh Rand. It’s not specifically stated that he’s a descendant of The Original Series‘ Janice Rand, but the implication couldn’t be clearer, given their similar appearance and Rand’s introduction in a scene involving people being lost in a transporter mishap, calling back to Janice’s role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
A two-parter spanned issues #4 and 5. With the Voyager low on resources, Neelix suggests trading with the Cambrog, but a botanical plague has struck their planet, Praja, and the crew finds a strip-mining operation run by the Kazon. While searching for survivors, Neelix and Chakotay end up trapped by a cave-in. (Between cave-ins, earthquakes, and quicksand, Hollywood led young me, back in the 1970s, to believe visiting any frontier town meant certain death from being sucked into the earth.) The Kazon-Oglamar, a weak sect introduced in “Maneuvers,” battle the Voyager until Paris and Janeway fake the starship’s destruction, then sweep in and overpower them—which pretty much illustrates why other Kazon look down on the Oglamar.
The Kazon and the Trabe, along with the plague-ridden Vidiians, returned in the three-chapter “Relicquest,” presented in issues #6–8. With morale and supplies running low (a common theme in the Marvel run, lending a much-needed sense of urgency sometimes lacking on TV), the Voyager visits Denar to restock. Millennia prior, a warrior group known as the Order had worked to bring peace to Denar, until a mind-powered relic had laid waste to the planet. Bonai, the last surviving member of the Order, abducts Janeway, along with representatives of the other three civilizations, and coerces them into helping him find the lost relic.
Intriguingly, Bonai vows to send the Voyager home, cure the Vidiian phage, restore the Trabe to glory, and provide the Kazon with advanced technologies if they do as he asks, but old hatreds predictably cause the four to argue instead of cooperating. The abductees locate the artifact, and when the Trabe and Kazon betray the others, Bonai expels them to their own space. He then invites Janeway and the Vidiian, who’d successfully worked together toward a common goal, to join the Order. She distrusts his motives, however, and astoundingly declines, spurning yet another alien’s offer to send the Voyager crew home so they won’t have to travel for seventy-five (or seven) years. It’s almost as though Coffee Kate likes being stranded in the Delta Quadrant.
The story displays plot similarities to The Animated Series‘ “The Jihad,” in which James Kirk and Spock help a mysterious and advanced alien find a stolen religious artifact, only for someone on the team to steal the item in an attempt to restore his people’s former prominence. Nonetheless, “Relicquest” is among Marvel’s more entertaining Voyager storylines, as it makes good use of both the Trabe and the Kazon, neither of whom proved overly interesting onscreen.
In issue #9, the Voyager winds up in a null pocket of space filled with trapped and powerless ships. A scavenger vessel tries to take the Voyager by force, but Janeway and company escape the spatial dead zone. This story contains no direct episode connections, though it does employ a trope common to Star Trek: the “Sargasso Sea in space,” named after an area of the Atlantic Ocean popularized in fiction (inaccurately so, as it happens) as being dangerous and mysterious.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the concept is the basis of the animated episode “The Time Trap,” as well as D.C. Fontana’s unfilmed script “The Stars of Sargasso.” In licensed lore, it also drives Gold Key’s Star Trek issue #15, the U.K. comic strip storyline “The Collector,” DC’s The Next Generation saga “The Star Lost,” the video game Voyager: Elite Force, WildStorm’s comic adaptation of same, Paul Kupperberg’ Star Trek S.C.E. novel Sargasso Sector, and more.
There’s a reason heroes becoming trapped in a region filled with derelict spaceships has so frequently been a premise in Star Trek, and in other franchises as well, such as Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica. It’s because the concept easily lends itself to Trek‘s framework, and because it makes for enjoyable stories, particularly when the visuals are as effective as they are in this issue. Don’t be surprised if publishers, or even TV writers, continue to revisit this well-mined concept in the future.
Several times in this series, text bubbles refer to the Voyager being 70,000 light years from Earth. However, since the comic begins during the show’s second season and then progresses from there, the distance should be less—and it should be decreasing over time. Otherwise, the starship would be spending years of its voyage traveling in circles instead of heading in the direction of the Alpha Quadrant. And that would be rather silly… though with Paris flying, anything’s possible.
Our examination of the second Marvel era will continue next time with a Deep Space Nine tie-in comic, the Nog-centric Starfleet Academy. This was one of Marvel’s greatest Star Trek achievements, so you won’t want to miss it.
Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:
- My ongoing column for Titan Books’ Star Trek Explorer magazine
- The Complete Star Trek Comics Index, curated 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 (Sequart, 2014)
- Star Trek: A Comics History, by Alan J. Porter (Hermes Press, 2009)
- The Star Trek Comics Weekly page on Facebook
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.