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.
61: Marvel Comics, 1997–1998
When Marvel regained the Star Trek license in 1996, it launched monthlies based on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, along with a Deep Space Nine spinoff, Starfleet Academy. This made sense, as those were the two TV shows airing new episodes at the time. But that didn’t mean Marvel ignored what had come before. In addition to the Christopher Pike-centric Early Voyages, the publisher also unveiled Star Trek Unlimited. Rather than featuring The Original Series and The Next Generation as two separate lines, Marvel combined them under the single Unlimited umbrella.
Despite strong stories from Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett, Unlimited was canceled after only ten issues—which is ironic, since the shared page count, short lifespan, and bimonthly schedule meant stories featuring James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard were, in fact, limited. This week, we’ll look back at the comic’s concluding chapters. Abnett and Edginton scripted issues #6–9, while Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin penned #10. The latter had signed aboard as the new writing team, but their tenure lasted only a single issue when Marvel abruptly dropped the license, leaving many proposals unpublished.
The back half of Unlimited contained several episodes sequels, following chapter four of the “Telepathy War” crossover, published in issue #6 and featuring the fugitive cadets of Starfleet Academy. This latest chapter revealed Cadet Matt Decker’s father, Admiral Dennis Decker, to be a Changeling. This had been hinted at in prior installments, since the admiral was acting in a bizarre manner, what with his wanting to execute his own son and all, and it provided one of the arc’s most exciting moments—particularly when the shapeshifter took the form of Will Riker.
Callbacks to onscreen Trek include the introduction of a new starship bearing the name Stargazer (Picard’s first command, per “The Battle”), as well as Geordi La Forge admitting to an irrational fear of the engineering deck being haunted by Borg drones slain aboard the Enterprise-E in Star Trek: First Contact. That may sound out of character for Geordi, but keep in mind that the Borg are Star Trek‘s analogue to George Romero’s zombies, so his ghost-Borg notion effectively continues the classic horror motif… in a way that Beverly Crusher’s ghost-lover candle never could.
A popular character from “Lower Decks” (the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, not the animated series) returns in issue #6, albeit in a minor role: Sam Lavelle, a career-oriented ensign (later promoted to lieutenant j.g.) whom Riker had found annoying due to his overt eagerness to impress senior officers. Lavelle now serves as the Enterprise‘s security chief, and in the interim the two have become friendly and comfortable around each other, providing a coda to his onscreen arc… though he looks a bit different in the comic versus on television.
The seventh chapter saw the return of trickster entity Q (a frequent fixture of 24th-century Trek) and the child-god Trelane (“The Squire of Gothos”). The two omnipotent nuisances play a galactic chess match, swapping out Kirk with Picard to test who would fare better in the other’s century. Both Enterprises are teleported to a void, where each faces a Klingon warrior: Chancellor Gowron against Kirk’s ship, with Picard in command, and Kang (“Day of the Dove”) against Picard’s, with Kirk in charge. The captains refuse to play the game, however, so the two beings take up arms to finish it themselves, one clad as a Klingon, the other assuming a classic Kirk pose in Starfleet gold. Given both beings’ penchant for soldier cosplay, the image is wonderfully appropriate.
Some amusing scenarios result from the captain swapping. Kirk, often portrayed in the comics as a space-Casanova, takes an immediate liking to Deanna Troi, who is noticeably uncomfortable with his creepy behavior, and he and Picard each use uncharacteristic terminology that leaves both crews befuddled. Spock’s perplexed reaction to Picard’s decision to tuck tail and run, rather than stay and fight like Kirk would, highlights a fundamental difference between Star Trek‘s first two live-action shows. Picard admits he’s from the future and asks Spock to mind-meld with him. Since the two had joined minds in “Unification”—in Spock’s future but Picard’s past—the first officer detects traces of the prior meld and confirms the validity of his claim (shades of “Turnabout Intruder”).
A trio of Klingon tales in issue #8 spotlight Alexander Rozhenko, Worf, and Kang. In “The Boy,” Alexander endures mocking from awkward classmate Darryl Futterman, then learns the other youth is faking toughness to avoid being bullied himself, since teenagers are still horrific jerks 400 years from now. Alexander teaches Darryl martial arts, while Darryl tutors him in academics, and the next time the bullies show up, Darryl hands them a can of Klingon Karate Kid whoop-ass, leaving them with bodily trauma and psychological post-trauma. Thanks to Worf’s son, Darryl has gone from bruised to bruiser, like young Ichiro Mici in the Godzilla film All Monsters Attack. So I guess that’s supposed to be better somehow…?
This story occurs before Alexander enlists in the Klingon Defense Forces, setting it before Deep Space Nine‘s “Sons and Daughters.” As in that episode, Alexander has grown up remarkably fast due to his Klingon physiology, and he’s a more formidable presence on the printed page than on TV, drawn as he is to resemble his wide-shouldered father. The comic contains a subtle callback to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, as Darryl uses eyeglasses due to a Retinax V allergy, the same reason Kirk wears spectacles in the film.
Story #2, “The Warrior,” takes place after Star Trek: Generations, in which treacherous sisters Lursa and B’Etor had met their demise. In the wake of their deaths, a rival House tries to assassinate B’Etor’s infant son, but Worf saves the child, taking a knife in the ribs. A servant for the Duras line, impressed that Worf would risk his life for a sworn enemy, vows that the child will not continue the blood feud. This seemingly ends the familial rivalry, though in “The Sword of Kahless,” Duras’s son Toral will keep the fires of hatred stoked, so Worf’s good deed might ultimately have little effect.
Finally, in “The Veteran,” an older Kang, now a colonial governor, hears that Jim Kirk is alive again (following his death in Generations) and embarks on a hunt to find his old enemy. Hikaru Sulu, following the same rumor, takes leave from captaining the Excelsior to investigate. The two old soldiers meet in a jungle and pool their resources, but instead of Kirk, they discover a mentally unbalanced Gorn battling Kirk holograms; it’s a great concept with nostalgic visuals, as each hologram recreates Jim from a different time in his life. The Gorn, named S’alath in issue #1, is the same warrior whom Kirk had battled in “Arena,” and he’s fallen on hard times.
It’s tragic to see this proud warrior reduced to so pitiful an existence, a confused old reptile unable to remember the strides he and Kirk took toward peace. A degenerative disease has stripped S’alath of his memories, leaving only his primal instinct intact, with Kirk as sole, hateful focus. The Gorn have granted S’alath a traditional warrior’s fate, using automated weapons trainers to create the holograms for him to battle. He dies by story’s end, hastened by a phaser stun to his frail, elderly body. Old age is front and center for all the players in this poignant tale, reminding readers that the franchise and characters have gotten older since the 1960s TV show… and so has the audience.
Aging has hit Kang particularly hard, as he’s been forced into a promotion but finds no honor in deskbound administrative work. Set after Voyager‘s “Flashback,” the comic’s narrative matches the grudging mutual respect Kang and Sulu display on TV. Sulu knows Kang intends to kill his former captain, yet he nonetheless works alongside him, perhaps suspecting the Klingon won’t follow through on his threat, given Kirk’s status as a hero to the Empire ever since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Readers never find out since the rumor proves false (though Kirk is revived in Pocket Books’ novels).
While enjoying shore leave in Unlimited‘s humorous ninth issue, Sulu and Chekov gamble with a group of Klingons and win big. Chekov thus gains the House signet of his opponent, General Krag, thereby becoming the head of Krag’s family (shades of Deep Space Nine‘s “The House of Quark”), but he has no inkling about this until later in the story. As Pavel and Hikaru return to the Enterprise, several Klingons attack their shuttle, each hoping to claim Krag’s House. Eventually, Pavel trades the signet back to Krag in exchange for a Klingon battlecruiser.
During the story, Sulu asks Chekov to be the godfather of his six-week-old daughter, Demora Sulu, featured as an adult in Generations and as a little girl in Star Trek Beyond (possibly—no name is given in the latter). Pavel is honored yet stunned that his friend never mentioned her. Hikaru explains that he keeps his family life and career separate, out of fear that Starfleet might sideline him to “softer jobs” if it knew he was a family man, since he hopes someday to command a starship (which he will).
“A Piece of Reaction” is presented in issue #10, and as the title makes clear, it’s a sequel to “A Piece of the Action.” One of Star Trek‘s best comedies, that episode introduced a planetary population so imitative they built a society mimicking 1920s Chicago gangsters just because they read a book on the subject. If life imitates art, then the Iotians are a veritable lifeforce and every society they meet is a museum. Let’s hope they never encounter anyone from Ekos and Zeon, or the societal changes they’d make would rival the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.
The Enterprise-E checks on Sigma Iotia II’s progress after Starfleet receives a request for Federation membership. To Picard’s surprise, the Iotians are technologically advanced and have hilariously remodeled their civilization to mimic Kirk’s crew, with architecture designed after the Enterprise‘s interior, everyone in the vicinity wearing gold uniforms, and those in other territories wearing red or blue. A caption places the issue 93 years after the episode (set in 2268), but that would mean the comic would occur in 2361, three years before “Encounter at Farpoint.” Since the story takes place after Star Trek: First Contact (2373), the span of time must at least 105 years.
The Federation has had no contact with the planet for almost a century, due to a Starfleet-imposed quarantine. This ignores other sequels, notably DC Comics’ “The Trial of James T. Kirk,” but it jibes nicely with Lower Decks‘ “No Small Parts” in its pointed criticism of Starfleet’s tendency not to check on the problematic worlds its officers discover. The quarantine is broken when Starfleet receives what shouldn’t be possible: a subspace signal, which could only be broadcast via transtator technology. Viewers, of course, know that the Iotians have such technology, thanks to Leonard McCoy having left behind a communicator. Apparently, neither he nor Kirk alerted Starfleet to this fact!
Since then, the civilization has emulated Starfleet, but with Chicago gangster attitudes mixed in. The planetary leader, Admiral Sonny—the young boy (now an old man) who’d helped Kirk enter Jojo Krako’s lair—resents having never received his promised piece of Starfleet’s action. The name Sonny is an amusing nod to Kirk having called him that onscreen, though it implies that’s his actual name, whereas Kirk was simply posing as his father at the time. Sonny attempts to commandeer the Enterprise, steal the secrets of starship technology, and conquer the Federation, but the crew tricks him with a hologram of Kirk—that’s two issues out of five featuring holo-Kirks. He’s then succeeded by an underling, Lieutenant Tepo, presumably a descendant of the episode’s mob boss.
There’s a funny callback to “The Big Goodbye.” Given the gangster motif during Kirk’s visit, Picard and company don their Dixon Hill holo-character costumes, not realizing current garb is based around 23rd-century Starfleet styles (besides which, Dix is from the 1940s, not the ’20s). Thus, in an effort not to further the cultural contamination by arriving in Starfleet uniforms to greet a society based on early 20th-century North America, they instead arrive in outfits from early 20th-century North America to greet a society based on Starfleet uniforms.
Deanna Troi describes Data as “South American,” mirroring a gag from the show, to avoid worsening the situation by letting the imitative Iotians know about androids. Be glad she did, or else a 25th-century crew would almost certainly end up finding a planet full of synthetic mobsters. Next time, we’ll leave the Federation, Klingons, and gangster-Starfleet-mimics behind. It’s back to the Delta Quadrant we’ll go, for more of Marvel’s excellent Star Trek: Voyager. There’s coffee in that nebula.
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.