Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #62

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.

62: Marvel Comics, 1998

Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes place in the 2270s (the exact year is debated), while Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan jumps ahead to 2285. That means a decade or more likely passes between movies, leaving a great deal of room for stories to take place in the interim. Around the time of the first film’s release, Marvel Comics and the L.A. Times Syndicate established a post-movie five-year mission for the Enterprise under James T. Kirk’s command, with DC Comics, Pocket Books, and Power Records (and later IDW) each adding stories to this period as well.

In 1998, Marvel unveiled its second series set between The Motion Picture and Star Trek II, titled Untold Voyages. Written by Glenn Greenberg, this five-part miniseries chronicled the first and final voyages of that five-year mission, as well as three others in between, with each issue set a year after the one before. This enabled the writer to show the characters growing older, while allowing breathing room for those prior series to still occur. In the process, the author crafted some great sequels to classic episodes.

Greenberg utilized Janice Rand and Christine Chapel in their respective new roles as transporter chief and physician, as well as the movie’s Rhaandarite bridge officer, here christened Ensign Omal. No mention is made of Will Decker, Ilia, or Sonak, whose deaths would have been a fresh wound at the miniseries’ start, but there’s only so much a writer can fit into a 20-page comic. Untold Voyages is still the cream of Marvel’s crop, thanks to Greenberg’s witty and intelligent storytelling, as well as the gorgeous artwork of Michael Collins and Keith Williams.

The first issue picks up at the end of The Motion Picture, with Kirk leading the refitted Enterprise on a shakedown cruise. In the wake of the V’Ger incident, Commander Krell (“A Private Little War”) investigates the Amar‘s onscreen destruction and concludes that V’Ger was a Federation weapon since the Enterprise and Earth survived unscathed. Krell, who now sports Klingon cranial ridges—as he would in a “blink and you’ll miss it” viewscreen cameo in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier—tries to capture the starship but falls for a bluff on Kirk’s part. No reference is made to the episode, but there’s nothing to indicate this is a different Krell. He and Kirk have never met prior to the comic, but that jibes well since Krell was discreetly working behind the scenes on TV.

Kirk’s bluff involves claiming the Enterprise has been outfitted with a superweapon called an Omegatron—a ruse similar to a trick he’d pulled in “The Corbomite Maneuver.” Impressed by Jim’s ingenuity, Admiral Nogura grants him a second five-year mission rather than making him resume his deskbound duties. (In the 1970s, Marvel introduced a villain called Omegatron, a humanoid superweapon created through science and magic to detonate Earth’s nuclear stockpile. Perhaps Kirk keeps the villain’s corpse in storage for just such an occasion; it’s the same publisher, after all.)

The published issue is not what Greenberg initially had in mind. “My original idea was to do sort of a Star Trek/Aliens mash-up, with the crew discovering a highly lethal, merciless insectoid species on an unexplored planet,” he recalls. “Kirk and a landing party would have been captured (cocooned, essentially) and Kirk would have become filled with self-doubt and convinced that he was too rusty and should have just given up the Enterprise after V’Ger because he’s not up to the rigors of command anymore.” The self-doubt angle remained in the final comic, but with a different cause.

According to Greenberg, his original pitch had Spock using his superior Vulcan strength to bust out of his cocoon, just as he’d crumpled his computer console in the film with his bare hands. “I can’t quite remember why Paramount rejected the story,” he says. “I think maybe they wanted something a little ‘bigger,’ more momentous, and closer to the Star Trek universe proper to kick off the series and Kirk’s second five-year mission. I do remember that they didn’t like Spock’s display of super-strength.”

Greenberg consulted with editor Timothy Tuohy while planning the plots. “He [Tuohy] said, ‘How do you think the Klingons are taking it that they lost three ships to V’Ger and then the Enterprise actually went into the thing and came out of it just fine?'” the author recalls. “That started the ball rolling. I said to Tim, ‘And imagine their reaction when they see the new Enterprise, all of its upgraded, state-of-the-art technology. They would love to get their hands on it!’ He nodded, and it all came together from there.”

Fuming over his latest promotion, Kirk considers resigning to become the captain of “some souped-up, modified spice freighter,” a sly reference to Han Solo from Star Wars. In other words, Kirk is thinking about a career in drug smuggling! In “The Cage,” Christopher Pike pondered joining the Orion sex-slave trade, while Robert April violated the Prime Directive in IDW’s Kelvin-timeline comics, and Spock committed mutiny in “The Menagerie.” Perhaps Starfleet needs to keep a closer eye on its Enterprise captains. Kirk actually did resign and captain an underworld freighter in the newspaper strips, though he was working undercover to infiltrate a slavery ring. Hopefully, Chris Pike wasn’t implicated in the sting operation.

In issue #2, the crew studies the life forms of a world about to be struck by an asteroid, then the natives telekinetically repel the rock into space. When Starfleet opts not to take action, McCoy angrily recalls Miramanee’s people (“The Paradise Syndrome”) as a culture the Federation saved under similar circumstances. Bones accuses Starfleet of bigoted decision-making, since this world’s natives, unlike Miramanee’s tribe, are non-human. Given the cracks in Starfleet’s armor, what with Section 31, the Khitomer conspiracy, and the events of Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Picard, McCoy’s accusation might not be groundless. It also foreshadows the miniseries’ finale.

This issue expands on Saavik’s heritage as established in Vonda N. McIntyre’s adaptations of The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as well as DC Comics’ Star Trek line and Carolyn Clowes’ The Pandora Principle. As in those tales, Saavik is a hybrid, the product of Romulan experiments to improve their species via Vulcan interbreeding. Spock arranges for his protégé to be raised by his parents (drawn as slightly younger versions of themselves from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), hoping that will help her better adjust to Vulcan society. He also shares his own childhood hybrid woes, as witnessed in “Yesteryear,” the 2009 film, and Star Trek: Discovery.

Sarek and Amanda collect children like most families accumulate throw-pillows—they lurk in the corners and no one is really sure how many there are (see Sarek of Vulcan: Star Trek‘s Worst Father)—but their raising of Saavik aligns with DC’s account. That background was almost nixed by the studio, however. “Paramount didn’t want me to acknowledge that Saavik was half-Romulan because it was never established on screen,” Greenberg says, though her dual heritage is noted in the film’s deleted scenes. “I fought that tooth and nail. Her backstory had become too ingrained in ‘fan-canon,’ thanks to Vonda McIntyre’s novelizations of TWOK and TSFS, as well as Mike Barr’s comic-book story for DC and all the other novels and comics that followed, and I didn’t want my story to be considered an outlier.”

The classic episode “Miri” receives an outstanding sequel in issue #3, in which readers learn the fate of the long-lived “children” known as the Onlies. This fate differs from the one in Judy Klass’s novel The Cry of the Onlies, but it’s no less powerful. McCoy’s vaccine, you see, has mutated into a deadlier strain of the original disease due to his having rushed his research, causing the cured Onlies to start dying. The result is a heartbreaking tale of loss and grief, particularly when viewed through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Miri perishes, Jahn kills the Federation’s doctors and teachers, then steals a shuttle, intending to avenge his friends—particularly Miri, to whom he’d admitted his love on her deathbed. (I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up.) Instead of killing McCoy, though, he kidnaps the doctor’s daughter Joanna, so that Bones, too, will lose the person he loves most. McCoy refines the vaccine to help the surviving children, but his anguish and guilt are not washed away so quickly, and the Onlies understandably reject further Federation assistance, no longer willing to trust any Grups.

Untold Voyages makes Joanna (never shown onscreen but described in the writers bible and referenced in “The Survivor”) likable and intelligent. She mentions growing up on Alpha Centauri, a callback to Brad Ferguson’s Crisis on Centaurus, and says she recently ended an engagement… which is interesting, for back in Marvel’s Star Trek #13, her engagement to her Vulcan fiancé didn’t work out either. She and Kirk flirt for a time, as was intended when the character was slated to appear in “The Way to Eden”—before Joanna was replaced by Irina Galliulin, who then became Chekov’s love interest—but McCoy objects to the pairing, knowing his friend’s history with women. Or maybe it’s because Jim’s wearing that same blue track suit from Star Trek III.

“I wanted to do the definitive Joanna McCoy story, since I never felt we got one,” Greenberg states, “especially since ‘The Way to Eden’ was so botched, what with Joanna changed to Irina and the romance with Kirk changed to a romance with Chekov. So I went back to D.C. Fontana’s original premise of at least a flirtation between Joanna and Kirk, and Paramount’s original response was that maybe Kirk was too old for Joanna, so instead, maybe use… wait for it… Chekov. I was like, please, no.”

Greenberg then wrote a detailed memo based on Michael and Denise Okuda’s Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future, demonstrating that Kirk wasn’t much older than Joanna, “certainly old enough to make her own decisions and not be seen as a wide-eyed innocent.” Apparently, his evidence was persuasive. “I guess I made a good case, because they bought into it. I think the story turned into a sequel to ‘Miri’ because with the spotlight on McCoy, I wanted to do a story where one of his miracle cures actually failed or turned into something really bad, and I wanted to rely on established Trek lore, something fans would know and remember and have a certain attachment to, rather than add some new, never-before-referred-to mission from McCoy’s past.”

Orion pirates rear their ugly green heads in issue #4, looking more like they did on Star Trek: Enterprise than in “The Pirates of Orion”—which is impressive since that show didn’t debut until three years later. With Kirk and Spock off-ship, Sulu leads the Enterprise on a mission to study a subterranean creature that absorbs and transmits EM impulses, which scientists have dubbed the Crier (any relation?). Their research, they hope, will lead to communication breakthroughs, but after the pirates try to steal the Crier, it fires itself into space to get away from both the Orion and Federation intruders. The mission has gone awry, but Sulu’s time in the center seat affirms his desire for a ship of his own, setting the stage for The Undiscovered Country and the USS Excelsior.

Greenberg addresses the mystery of how Chekov and Khan Noonien Singh could have recognized each other in The Wrath of Khan, since “Space Seed” was a season-one episode and Walter Koenig didn’t join the cast until season two. The solution is simple and elegant: Pavel was not yet a bridge officer during “Space Seed,” as he’d served in engineering at the time and was thus present when Khan took over. (Greg Cox’s The Eugenics Wars novel trilogy employed the same explanation.) When Chekov cites these events as the most frightening of his time aboard the Enterprise, his shipmates are taken aback, for not one of them recalls his having been in the crew during the Khan incident—not even Scotty, to whom he’d reported.

It’s all very amusing, doubly so in light of Star Trek: Lower Decks, a core premise of which is that those on a starship’s bridge have an elitist attitude and barely notice those serving beneath them. Incidentally, the others cite the following as their most frightening moments: “Mirror, Mirror,” since Uhura ended up trapped in a parallel universe; “The Enemy Within,” since Sulu nearly froze to death on Alfa 177; and “The Naked Time,” since Scotty had to cold-start the warp engines—because of course Scotty’s biggest fear would involve the safety of his poor bairns.

For the final chapter, Greenberg crossed Star Trek over with the pop-culture phenomenon of UFO abduction lore. Alien abductions are mentioned in such episodes as “Assignment: Earth,” “Schisms,” “The 37’s,” and “North Star,” but one species has remained curiously absent from the discussion: the so-called “Grey” aliens common to abduction accounts since the 1960s. Although Star Trek spans nearly 900 episodes and films, the Greys have not shown up onscreen… unless Barash (“Future Imperfect”) is a member of that species, which he could be, in which case they have and no one noticed.

The Greys have appeared on The X-Files, Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, Dark Skies, People of Earth, and other shows, as well as in such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (slyly referenced in this comic with the similar-looking alien mothership), Communion, Paul, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Their crossover into the Trek universe in this miniseries comes by way of “The Paradise Syndrome,” which introduced the Preservers. After the Greys abduct members of the Yorktown and Enterprise crews, Spock communes with the aliens and learns that such abductions are intended to identify species seeded by the Preservers, their contemporary rivals.

The Greys, it seems, oppose the Preservers’ actions, believing that seeding species around the cosmos robs planets of their individuality, destroys environments and evolutionary cycles, and suppresses natural development. In essence, their rivalry is similar to that between Babylon 5‘s Shadows and Vorlons. Thus, the Greys have been searching for seeded species and returning them to their origin worlds, and their plan to bring Romulans back to Vulcan could prove catastrophic. Thankfully, Kirk and Spock convince the aliens’ leader to stop abducting people. In a fun homage to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the wrinkled elder resembles E.T. and even decides to take his people “home.”

By story’s end, the status quo of The Wrath of Khan is in place. The uniforms change from “space pajamas” to “monster maroon,” Chekov is reassigned to the Reliant as Clark Terrell’s first officer, and Saavik follows in her mentor’s footsteps by vowing to enlist in Starfleet. Kirk, meanwhile, encounters reckless cadets who hero-worship him and realizes he could be doing a better job of influencing the next generation, a scenario that also played out in DC’s Star Trek #47. So when Harry Morrow (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) replaces Nogura as Starfleet’s commanding admiral and seeks to promote Kirk, Jim this time accepts the offer, agreeing to oversee Academy cadet instruction, with the Enterprise as a training vessel and his best friends at his side.

Kirk’s second five-year mission may have ended, but the Marvelous adventure continues. In the coming weeks, we’ll wrap up our discussions of Starfleet Academy, Early Voyages, and Voyager, then delve into the company’s various Star Trek one-shots. After that? Well, a wild storm is brewing right around the corner, so stick around.

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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