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.
59: Marvel Comics, 1997
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is something for which fans have long advocated: a TV show chronicling the adventures of Christopher Pike and the USS Enterprise crew before James T. Kirk took command. When Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck joined Star Trek: Discovery‘s cast to portray Captain Pike, Number One, and Spock, it was remarkable how well Mount and Romijn channeled the nuances of Jeffrey Hunter and Majel Barrett from 1965’s “The Cage” (in fact, both actors arguably surpassed their predecessors), as well as how smoothly Peck stepped into Leonard Nimoy’s most famous role.
Strange New Worlds followed, and the recasting of Nyota Uhura, Christine Chapel, Joseph M’Benga, James T. Kirk, and especially Montgomery Scott has been equally impressive, filling out the lineup alongside several intriguing new characters. A quarter-century earlier, however, Marvel Comics had beaten CBS All-Access and Paramount-Plus to the punch. Marvel’s Star Trek: Early Voyages brought back the regular cast from “The Cage” and its two-part sequel, “The Menagerie”—Pike, Spock, and Number One, as well as Philip Boyce, J.M. Colt (here called Mia), and José Tyler—while adding several new characters to the roster. This week, we’ll look at how issues #7–11 provided sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to onscreen lore.
Early Voyages, written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton, with outstanding artwork by Patrick Zircher, Greg Adams, Mike Collins, and others, proved popular with readers. It expanded on the onscreen relationships hinted at in “The Cage,” as well as character traits noted in the show’s writers bible. This was particularly true for Tyler, who (according to The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry), is “young enough to be painfully aware of the historical repute of Latins as lovers—and is in danger of failing this challenge on a cosmic scale.” Tyler, the document notes, has a “Boston astronomer father and Brazilian mother.”
Setting aside how regrettably dated that description might sound in the 21st century, the character’s driving focus in this span of issues is to woo Mia Colt, and for a while he fails miserably at it, consistent with the writers bible. Although “The Cage” had spotlighted Colt’s schoolgirl attraction to Pike, she’s a strong, intelligent woman in Early Voyages, neither defined by her relationship to men nor foolish enough to have a love affair with her commanding officer. She does eventually consider dating Joe Tyler, though, whose earnest pursual of her affections she finds charming rather than creepy and stalkerish, because this comic was written in the 1990s, when men refusing to take “no” for an answer was still portrayed in a positive light.
Issue #7 brings back Kaaj, the Klingon commander whom Pike had disgraced in issue #2. Kaaj declares a blood-debt against Pike and fakes a message that the captain’s father has fallen ill. Pike departs for Earth on a shuttle, but Kaaj shoots down his vessel over an agrarian world and butchers the colonists. Pike defends the colony from the Klingons, forcing Kaaj to retreat in humiliation. If you’re predicting this won’t be the last we see of the now further disgraced Kaaj, you’re not mistaken.
Pike’s father, here named Josh, is an emotionally distant man who resides on the family homestead in Mojave and has little to do with his son. (A decade later, Margaret Wander Bonanno’s Burning Dreams would dub the elder Pike “Charlie,” despite that novel featuring Moves-With-Burning-Grace, a character introduced in Early Voyages.). In issues #10 and 11, readers meet Josh Pike when Chris and Number One spend a shore leave in Mojave, and the tension between father and son is thicker than a Horta’s egg. Chris also has a godfather—an Andorian named Mahirn—and they get along fine.
There’s so much future storytelling potential here, making it doubly unfortunate that the comic would end so prematurely. The issue sets up a mystery never resolved by the time of cancellation. With Pike seemingly doomed on the planet Prairie, an anonymous benefactor informs the Enterprise crew of his location via a screened, untraceable transmission. This individual’s identity is never revealed, much like the mysterious “Future Guy” on Star Trek: Enterprise. (Hey, maybe they’re the same guy.)
The Enterprise renders medical aid to the planet Neyda Prime in issue #8, and Doctor Boyce is arrested for—and confesses to—murdering a patient. The voices in Boyce’s head (as shown in prior issues) cause him to escape from custody and seek out Vulcan Ambassador Toluk, who performs a mind-meld and discovers that the souls of three murdered men had possessed the physician, forcing him to kill their enemy in a fit of ghostly insanity. Toluk extracts the homicidal spirits and Boyce is exonerated. But in hindsight, residual trauma from this experience could explain the good doctor’s absence on Strange New Worlds.
This parallels Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as Boyce suffers from carrying other people’s tortured souls in his head, similar to the side effects Leonard McCoy will later experience while sharing Spock’s katra. In the comic, a much younger Spock expresses skeptical disbelief in katra transference, presaging his choice to perform that ritual at the moment of his own death, while illustrating how much Spock has matured by the time of the theatrical films. Incidentally, the man Boyce kills is called Drexler, presumably honoring Doug Drexler, a Star Trek production staff associate who cowrote issues #47 and 48 of the Gold Key line.
Nano, in issue #9, is recalled home to Liria, the telepathic natives of which have a fixed population number in order to maintain societal equilibrium—a fascinating concept, so it’s no surprise letter-writers praised Nano’s addition to the lineup. Created specifically to serve the Federation as Liria’s emissary following first contact, Nano was never intended to return home, remaining forever an outsider among his own people.
When unexpected deaths require Nano to go home and rebalance the collective unity, two problems arise. First, the death was caused by a terrifying monster, and since the Lirin are too proud to request assistance, the deaths will continue to threaten planetary stability. Second, Nano doesn’t want to go. It seems the Lirin people’s innate fear of offworlders has manifested a destructive pyrotechnic force. The good news: this revelation kills two metaphorical space-birds with one space-stone, for Nano remaining with Starfleet will help his people dispel their phobia regarding other cultures. Voilà!
At first glance, Nano’s background seems to share similarities with those of Discovery‘s Saru, The Next Generation‘s Worf, Deep Space Nine‘s Odo, and even Spock: He’s a reserved but likable extraterrestrial with unusual abilities, unable to live among his own people, yet an outsider among his human crewmates despite their fondness for him. However, his story more closely mirrors an aspect of the Star Trek homage-paying TV show The Orville—specifically, the backstory of the Kaylon emissary Isaac.
Following first contact with the Federation, the reclusive Lirin created Nano to serve as a liaison between Liria and the offworlders, in order to learn about those outside their shy culture. Likewise, on The Orville, Isaac was built to observe the worlds of the Planetary Union and report back to his xenophobic culture of artificial life forms. The major difference, aside from the Kaylons’ mechanical nature, is that the Lirin are peaceful, whereas Isaac’s fellow automata attempt to eradicate all biological life.
A two-part tale in issues #10 and 11 calls back the classic episode “The Tholian Web”—from a distance, as the Tholians don’t actually appear, though their looming threat is ever-present as they launch an expansionist campaign. The Assembly’s heretofore unseen shock troops, the Chakuun, attack several worlds that the Tholians have decided fall inside their territory’s frequently changing boundaries. The Tholians had annexed the Chakuun centuries prior, and the latter happily serve as their warrior elite because the two cultures’ values and worldviews are so well-aligned.
Nurse Carlotti, whose family had been slaughtered by the Chakuun, finds her devotion to the Hippocratic Oath tested when she encounters a wounded warrior on a planet the Chakuun have just bombarded. She comes awfully close to murdering this soldier, but instead tends to the other woman’s wounds and comes to see that the human perspective is not the only one worth considering. Despite their enmity, the two reassess the other’s species’ worth, after which the Chakuun withdraw from battle, having gained newfound respect for the human outlook. Starfleet gains valuable insight into the Tholian mindset, while preventing further bloodshed for now.
That, right there, is Star Trek at its most ideal: people rising above prejudices to choose peace and understanding over violence and hatred. Whenever you hear misguided fans complaining that modern-day Star Trek has become “too woke” (whatever the heck “too woke” is supposed to mean), just remember that Star Trek has always been woke. The problem isn’t the modern shows; it’s that a lot of modern-day fans have failed to understand the franchise’s history and underlying messages.
“We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it,” Kirk once noted (in “A Taste of Armageddon”). “We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today.” That theme resonates in “Balance of Terror,” The Next Generation‘s “The Enemy” and “Darmok,” and so many other episodes, and it illustrates an important reason why Early Voyages was a standout title during Marvel’s tenure: because its creators embraced the franchise’s core principles.
Issue #10 has two other callbacks to The Original Series, in an offbeat scene in which Colt brings Spock and Tyler to tour her hometown, New York City. Among the famous buildings she points out are the Christopher Institute, presumably named after John Christopher’s son, Shaun Geoffrey Christopher, who (per “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”) led the first Earth-Saturn probe mission. There’s also the Cochrane Museum, honoring warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane (“Metamorphosis”). Then again, pretty much everything in the Star Trek universe not named after Richard Daystrom is named after Cochrane.
Colt also points out 387 Park Avenue South, the former location of Marvel Comics’ headquarters. This jibes with Marvel’s Starfleet Academy, in which Matt Decker collects comics published by that company, confirming that Marvel exists as the publisher of a fictional franchise within Star Trek continuity. What’s difficult to reconcile, then, is the existence of two Star Trek one-shots that cross over the Enterprise crew with the fictional X-Men. We’ll get to those in a few weeks, but first, we’ll take our runabout back through the wormhole next week for more exciting adventures from Marvel’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. See you then, old man.
Bonus tie-in: At the end of issue #11 is an advertisement featuring a one-page sci-fi comic strip titled “Now and Beyond.” A Grobulan spy rushes home with intelligence that will tip the scales in his people’s favor during an impending invasion of Earth: the board game Stratego. It’s an amusing little strip, and the Grobulans’ armor, appearance, and manner are clearly meant to invoke the look of post-The Motion Picture Klingons.
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.