Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #57

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.

57: Marvel Comics, 1997

If a publisher had announced in the 1990s that it was planning a Star Trek spinoff focused on Janice Rand, Christine Chapel, Chief Kyle, Alyssa Ogawa, or dabo girl Leeta, fans might have raised an eyebrow in surprise. It’s not that readers would have rejected such a concept. In fact, quality stories could certainly be told (and have been) about all of the above characters. But a simple question would have sprung to mind: “Why?” (Note: Strange New Worlds hadn’t yet existed, propelling Chapel to “main star” status.)

So it’s interesting that Marvel’s Starfleet Academy was so highly anticipated, built as it was around Nog—a character who, for two seasons of Deep Space Nine, was as minor a player as Chapel once was, or as Kyle and Ogawa remained, and who primarily just got himself and Jake Sisko in trouble a lot. It’s a credit to the late Aron Eisenberg (who passed away far too young in 2019) that the viewers and writers came to care a great deal about the mischievous Ferengi, and that readers embraced a monthly series charting Nog’s adventures. The undeniable charm of Eisenberg’s portrayal elevated Nog from side character to fan-favorite, and his comic spinoff, penned by Christian Cooper, was among Marvel’s best.

This week, we’ll look back at issues #7–12, richly illustrated by Chris Renaud, Andy Lanning, John Royle, and Tom Wegrzyn, which provided sequels to some much-loved Original Series episodes. Throughout the first six issues, Omega Squad couldn’t catch a break. Team member Kamilah Goldstein was murdered by a Klingon cadet. Said Klingon, Kovold, was teammate Pava Ek’Noor Aqabaa’s lover, making the murder doubly heartbreaking. Plus, the Academy’s superintendent, Admiral Pradesh, had it out for them for reasons unknown, and Admiral Leyton and Red Squad tried to assassinate them.

Now, in issue #7, Nog has been framed for trying to murder Kamilah’s replacement, Edam Astrun—who, despite having rubbed the squad the wrong way by falling into her open casket, doesn’t deserve death. As Nog awaits his fate, doctors work to save Astrun’s life. The Betazoid sends Nog visions of his own attack that point to a shapeshifter in their midst, enabling the team to expose a Changeling posing as a Starfleet officer. Astrun reads its mind and learns of a Dominion plot to kill telepaths.

The issue features a cameo by the Chalnoth (“Allegiance”), as Nog’s friends work off their frustration by fighting simulated warriors in a holodeck program. This is a pretty common Trek trope, as Worf and Jadzia Dax frequently fought non-human foes as a form of exercise, though by today’s standards, it comes uncomfortably close to paralleling blackface, “cowboys and Indians,” and other racist depictions. Consider how incredibly offensive it would be, for example, if a hypothetical real-world holodeck were to let players stay in shape by beating the snot out of Muslims, people of color, or women and children! It’s just Star Trek and they have bumpy foreheads, so I guess it’s OK… but one can’t help but wonder how the Chalnoth feel about such a program.

Charles Evans returns in issue #8, in a story that flips the script on the lonely youth who, the last time we saw him (in “Charlie X”), was so desperate for human interaction that he obsessed over Janice Rand to the point of creepy, stalkerish behavior and unwanted physical contact. A century after that episode’s events, the Thasians have departed their world, leaving Charlie alone and miserable. He intriguingly duplicates himself for company, but the two Charlies develop different personalities, leaving him conflicted—and remorseful for what he’d done to the crews of the Enterprise and the Antares.

Longing to return home, Charlie stows aboard the prospecting ship Eldorado, but his vengeful nature emerges once more, causing him to send that vessel’s crew to the pocket universe to which he’d sent Rand and others. Omega Squad finds him on the Eldorado, and when they realize who he is, a misunderstanding spirals the situation out of control. Charlie expels the team into that void, but having never meant to harm anyone, he accepts that he isn’t ready to play well with others and sadly releases them back to their own universe.

Cooper’s take on Charles Evans is touching and organic. Unlike The Twilight Zone‘s Anthony Fremont, The Omen‘s Damien Thorn, and The Good Son‘s Henry Evans (weird naming coincidence there), Star Trek‘s Charlie was never evil, not even on TV, but his atypical life experiences as a human child raised on a planet of well-meaning incorporeal beings incapable of love, given mental abilities to survive in such an alien environment yet denied the chance to be among his own kind, shaped him into an unwitting, pitiable monster. The monster has grown up and wishes to rejoin humanity, but tragically it isn’t meant to be, and thus Charlie must remain isolated.

Before Starfleet Academy‘s untimely cancelation as of issue #19, Cooper had planned to revisit Charlie in #22—and to pit him against the omnipotent trickster entity Q, who would have given Mr. Evans an ultimatum: join the Continuum or die. It’s a shame that story was never published, for the author’s description of the intended plot sounds like it would have provided an exciting follow-up to the episode and to this issue:

“The problem is, joining the Continuum is the last thing Charlie wants, because all he’s ever longed for is human contact. Q agrees that Charlie can stay among humanoids—if he can get Omega Squad to accept him. Weird situations abound as Q throws them curveballs, Charlie gets them out of it, and the squad faces the reality that life with an omnipotent Charlie may not be possible, despite the best of intentions on both sides. (Also, a rivalry starts to develop as Charlie is drawn to T’Priell, making Edam a wee bit jealous.) Finally, Charlie gets Omega Squad to accept him by apparently using his powers to wish his powers away permanently.”

Running throughout issues #8–12 is the aforementioned Dominion plot, and the opening salvo in their war is a sequel to “The Cage” and “The Menagerie.” As Changelings infiltrate the Alpha Quadrant, Jem’Hadar soldiers are dispatched to eliminate all telepathic species that might expose their plans. This includes invading Talos IV and slaughtering thousands. The Talosians send a telepathic distress call to Spock on Romulus (where he still works with the underground movement introduced in “Unification”), but Astrun receives the message and brings Omega Squad to the forbidden planet.

The cadets find dead Talosians and Jem’Hadar, then Christopher Pike—still young and vital and Jeffrey Hunter-like, as he was in “The Cage”—brings them underground to the Talosian city, where they help him repel the invaders. Once the soldiers are defeated, a Talosian provides the issue’s unexpected reveal: Pike was merely an illusion, for he and Vina had died fifty years prior. With the crisis averted, the squad return to Earth and are arrested for violating General Order 7. Yes, right on the heels of being accused of trying to murder Edam Astrun, Nog is almost immediately accused of violating Starfleet’s edict against visiting Talos IV. Ben Sisko, who’d sponsored Nog’s enrollment, must be slamming his head onto his desk right about now.

Pradesh presides over Omega Squad’s court martial. Spock, serving as the cadets’ defense counsel, appeals to the youthful mistakes of the other judges, Admirals Charlie Whatley and Marta Keith, who empathize but are unable to believe the squad’s account. Pradesh grants Nog clemency due to his unfamiliarity with Federation law but sentences the others to death. This, naturally, leads to widespread protests over such brutal punishment, led by Matt Decker’s best friend—and possibly something more—Yoshi Mishima. (It’s rather strange to reread this 1997 storyline through the hellish lens of 2020’s events, as you can imagine.) Pradesh’s fellow judges originated in televised Trek.

Vice-Admiral Keith was introduced in The Next Generation‘s “Tapestry” under her maiden name, Marta Batanides, and was a close friend of Jean-Luc Picard and Cortan “Corey” Zweller back in the day. Zweller recounts an experience from the trio’s cadet years, when he and Picard had broken the rules to save Batanides’ life. Marta had nearly died due to a non-viable pregnancy—as depicted in the Section 31 novel Rogue, by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin—and the only cure could be obtained at a black-market genetics lab on Yrskatdon, guarded by Chalnoth mercenaries (who may or may not have held a grudge over their likenesses being used as holodeck punching dummies). Though Jean-Luc and Corey avoided expulsion, their privileges were canceled for a year. Marta is touched by the story, having never known what her friends had done for her, and she thus votes for leniency for Omega Squad… but still finds them guilty.

Whatley, meanwhile, had almost court-martialed Sisko in Deep Space Nine‘s “Rapture.” He finds the squad guilty as well, but although he favors harsh punishment, Spock reminds him of certain indiscretions from Whatley’s own cadet days, after which the admiral hastily changes his mind and the subject—proof that even Spock is not above blackmail when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

The squad’s Trill instructor, Kyethn Zund, comes to suspect that Pradesh may be another shapeshifter. She, Mishima, and Boothby help Omega Squad escape from the brig, then the cadets steal a runabout and travel to Deep Space Nine seeking help in thwarting the Jem’Hadar invasion. Admiral Decker (Matt’s dad) orders the Enterprise to apprehend them, providing a fun cameo by The Next Generation‘s Will Riker and Deanna Troi.

Boothby, introduced in The Next Generation‘s “The First Duty,” is a featured player throughout Starfleet Academy. That makes sense, as he’s the groundskeeper—and clearly much more, given his intimate knowledge of everyone and everything on campus, going back decades. Plus, he’s Ray Walston, and there’s no such thing as too much Ray Walston.

When Nog is imprisoned, Boothby somehow manages to read the Ferengi’s psych profile, which shouldn’t fall under the clearance level of a guy who cleans up flowerbeds for a living. He also facilitates the cadets’ brig escape by ordering his team to “accidentally” drill though the Academy’s main power cable, cutting power to their cell at just the right moment. And it’s Boothby who tells Spock details of the judges’ cadet days, enabling him to mount the squad’s defense. Marvel should have published a Boothby-centric spy spinoff—costarring Garak, perhaps. The title: Star Trek: Sewn and Sown. IDW, call me!

There’s an intriguing (and obviously coincidental) connection to the CBS All-Access era of Star Trek. Spock muses that there may be Tal Shiar spies planted deep in Starfleet, but that such spies rarely last since Romulans lack the ability to maintain Vulcan logical discipline for long. This commentary takes on retroactively ironic significance given the revelation, in Star Trek: Picard‘s “Maps and Legends,” that Commander Oh, a Tal Shiar general, has long infiltrated Starfleet Security successfully. So has Cadet T’Priell, for that matter. Not even Spock gets it right all the time—though in his defense, he does sense a duality to her nature, setting the stage for the inevitable reveal of her heritage.

In the meantime, the invasion of Talos IV is just the beginning of a larger storyline: Marvel’s “Telepathy War” epic, spanning not only Starfleet Academy, but also Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Unlimited, and Voyager, before concluding with the Telepathy War: Reality’s End one-shot. Long before IDW’s “Day of Blood,” there was “Telepathy War,” and it was glorious. But that’s a topic for another week’s column.

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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