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.
63: Marvel Comics, 1997–1998
It’s never fun when something we greatly enjoy goes away—doubly so if it goes away prematurely. When Marvel Comics launched multiple Star Trek lines in 1996, one standout title was Christian Cooper’s Starfleet Academy, built around Nog’s decision, in Deep Space Nine‘s “Heart of Stone,” to become more than just another greedy Ferengi merchant with a caveat emptor mindset and a gold-pressed volume of the Rules of Acquisition.
Starfleet Academy introduced Nog to the diverse cadets of Omega Squad, consisting of Jewish-Muslim team leader Kamilah Goldstein (tragically murdered early on), Andorian warrior Pava Ek’Noor Aqabaa, human comic collector Matthew Decker (a descendant of the commodore from “The Doomsday Machine” and the carbon unit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the emotionally conflicted T’Priell (a Vulcan unaware she was a Romulan spy), and Goldstein’s psionically powerful Betazoid replacement, Edam Astrun. Kyethn Zund, a joined Trill, supervised their training, while Boothby and Rear Admiral Andrea Brand, from “The First Duty,” frequently showed up as well.
This week, we’ll examine the concluding installments of Starfleet Academy, in issues #13–19. Unlike prior issues, which offered sequels to “The Cage,” “Charlie X,” and other onscreen tales, these final chapters contained fewer episode connections because the comic had unfolded a narrative about the team’s interpersonal relationships and attempts to expose treachery among Starfleet’s ranks, which understandably took precedence over episode sequels. Nonetheless, the series offered several TV tie-ins right to the end.
The cadets’ families visit for Parents’ Day in issue #13. Decker’s father reassigns him to Nebula Squad, but after Matt and Pava walk in on their parents snogging, the embarrassed admiral hastily transfers him back to the Omegas. Pava’s mother, a romance holonovelist, brings welcome humor to the story. She’s drawn absurdly sexy, and her seduction of the elder Decker plays out like a scene from one of her holo-romances. Among her famous works is A Love More Tangled Than a Tholian Web, a great reference to the classic episode title, though it’s worth noting that Tholian webs are not typically tangled. They’re actually quite orderly in their construction.
Astrun’s parents try to manipulate him into returning home by emanating angry emotions. This transforms Pava’s pet (a “were,” as in “werewolf”) into a savage creature that terrorizes the campus. Amidst this silliness, the serious tone is suddenly reasserted as T’Priell’s parents warn Brand that the cadet claiming to be their daughter is an impostor. If this issue were based on Dark Shadows (which would not be so outlandish, given the werewolf’s presence), the final page would feature that show’s “bum-bum-bum!” cliffhanger tune—which Christian Cooper, who shares my love for the 1960s gothic soap opera, would no doubt appreciate.
“T’Priell Revealed” spans issues #14–16, which unveil the Vulcan cadet’s big secret. The real T’Priell had sacrificed herself during a scientific expedition in order to destroy a Tal Shiar spy. A gentle Romulan scientist named Selke, who’d befriended her, had hosted the dying Vulcan’s katra, riffing on the “remember” sequence from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Before she could return T’Priell’s soul to Mount Seleya for the fal-tor-pan ritual (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), the Tal Shiar had brainwashed Selke into becoming an intelligence agent, leaving her mentally unbalanced due to her dual personality.
With this secret exposed, the Selke aspect of T’Priell’s mind activates and lures the Omegas into a trap. Selke rigs an explosion to fake their deaths, then they awaken as Romulan prisoners. To the surprise of readers and Nog alike, Goldstein’s ghost helps Nog and Yoshi Mishima rescue their friends. Thankfully, this use of the supernatural is not handled ridiculously, like Beverly Crusher’s masturbatory ghost-candle boyfriend (my next band name) from “Sub Rosa.”
The story features a 23rd-century starship called the USS Dunsel. The “drifting Constitution-class relic,” designated a training vessel, has been fitted with multiple holodecks to simulate rescue missions, but it’s otherwise out of service. This is amusingly fitting, since in “The Ultimate Computer” the term “Dunsel” was an insult used by midshipmen to describe parts serving no useful purpose—not to mention Starfleet officers rendered redundant.
Nog and Mishima track a cloaked vessel to the Neutral Zone, where Omega Squad are imprisoned along with Selke’s former mentor N’Vat, an angry reptilian called Halakith, and T’Priell’s stasis-stored body. Selke conducts experiments on Astrun’s brain in an attempt to unlock his psionic abilities, reminiscent of a Romulan experiment conducted in DC Comics’ Star Trek #7–8 to create psychic super-soldiers. In that story, the Romulans subjected Saavik’s fiancé, Xon, to similar torture—and in both cases, the results prove disastrous for the Empire.
Fans get their first look at Gal Gath’thong, an area famous for its firefalls, which was described but not shown in The Next Generation‘s “The Defector,” when titular defector Alidar Jarok expressed regret at never being able to see the falls again due to his betrayal. In addition, the story ties in with “Unification,” for a member of Spock’s underground movement, who’d infiltrated the base as a spy, risks exposure (and dies) to help the captured cadets and other detainees return to Federation space.
With Omega Squad recovering on Deep Space Nine in issue #17, Zund brings Selke to Vulcan in an effort to separate the warring personalities, but a Vulcan elder, T’Lathne, fails to remove the hosted katra. The intertwined personalities battle for supremacy until Astrun teaches them how to coexist, and Starfleet lets T’Priell continue her Starfleet studies once Selke throws off her Tal Shiar brainwashing. T’Lathne is drawn identically to The Search for Spock‘s T’Lar, the Vulcan priestess in charge of fal-tor-pan. If not for the characters’ different names, in fact, readers would naturally assume this to be T’Lar—who would be quite old by this point, even by Vulcan standards.
Starfleet’s decision to let a former Tal Shiar spy remain at the Academy seems admittedly foolhardy. Then again, this same organization forgave Jim Kirk’s crew for violating the Talos IV general order (“The Menagerie”), as well as stealing the Enterprise and sabotaging the Excelsior (Star Trek III), then avoiding arrest (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), staging a mutiny (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), and escaping from prison after being sent there for assassinating the Klingon chancellor (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).
They’ve also forgiven Julian Bashir and Una Chin-Riley for being genetically engineered (Deep Space Nine‘s “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” and Strange New Worlds‘ “Ad Astra per Aspera”); Ro Laren for violating orders (The Next Generation‘s “Ensign Ro”) and joining the Maquis (Picard‘s “Imposters”); and Michael Burnham for committing mutiny (Discovery‘s “Battle at the Binary Stars”); not to mention Chakotay, Tom Paris, and B’Elanna Torres all joining the Maquis as well, on Voyager.
What’s more, Starfleet allowed Discovery‘s Ash Tyler (Klingon spy Voq, whose situation matches T’Priell’s) and Philippa Georgiou (a tyrannical empress from another reality) to serve in Section 31, as well as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness, despite all three being dangerous villains. It also allowed Klingon defector Konom to serve in Kirk’s crew during the DC years, at the height of the cold war. You will never find an organization more naïvely determined to overlook people’s trespasses than Starfleet.
Heck, Voyager‘s Kathryn Janeway was promoted to admiral after hypocritically violating the Temporal Prime Directive and incalculably altering two entire quadrants’ histories just to selfishly save her friends. (Don’t be surprised if Garth of Izar and Ben Finney ran the Academy following their prison sentences, with Ronald Tracey, Richard Daystrom, and Janice Lester serving as instructors.) So it’s absurd that Starfleet treated Seven of Nine so poorly until Star Trek: Picard season three due to her status as a former Borg—particularly when you remember that Icheb, who’d been a Borg since birth, and Picard, who’d decimated the fleet as Locutus, were both allowed to serve in Starfleet!
But I digress.
Halakith enrolls in Starfleet as well, but when the new cadet is assigned to room with Mishima, she refuses to accept his homosexual lifestyle, and Yoshi tries to get her expelled for espousing bigoted beliefs. Decker tells them about a culture that had split over religious differences, a situation that Mishima likens to the planet Charon (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”), whose warring cultures were both extinguished in mutual annihilation—and whose inhabitants looked like black-and-white bakery cookies.
It’s impressive that Chris Cooper, a gay man of color, would have Decker urge Yoshi to accept Halakith despite her ignorant homophobia, particularly since it was Cooper’s intention to depict Matt as gay, too. It says a lot about the writer’s patience and peaceful nature that he’d view the situation from this standpoint. Life imitated art, in fact, for after the author made headlines following 2020’s Central Park birdwatching incident, he expressed ambivalence about the New York legal system prosecuting the racist white woman who’d falsely accused him of threatening her life. I’m not sure I’d have been so forgiving; I guess Cooper exemplifies Starfleet’s ideals more than I do.
Issue #18 was published in Klingonese. Since only around a hundred people in the entire world speak that fictional language fluently, it’s a good thing the comic was also released in English. As war with the Dominion goes badly for the Empire, the Klingon cadets of First Cadre vow to find the Sword of Kahless so they can prove their mettle as warriors. This enables Omega Squad to lead them into a trap and avenge Goldstein’s murder. The sword, mentioned in Deep Space Nine‘s “Rightful Heir,” made its only appearance in “The Sword of Kahless,” in which Jadzia Dax, Kor, and Worf set the weapon adrift in interstellar space to prevent it from dividing Klingon society.
The issue contains a faux advertisement for a Klingon eatery, B’eulah’s Gagh! Gagh! and More Gagh!, located on Deep Space Three. That station, commanded by Admiral Marcus Holt, appeared in the episode “Interface” and was noted as hosting an annual palio. Presumably, Klingon serpent worms are on the menu during the event—hopefully, still moving. Gagh is always best when served live. More recently, Beckett Mariner attended the Zebulon Sisters’ performance of the Chu Chu dance at the station in Lower Decks‘ “Terminal Provocations.”
Marvel gave Cooper little notice that it was canceling Starfleet Academy, which accounts for the rushed nature of issue #19. Pava fights her ex-lover Kovold, who has gone insane. A creature attacks her, and Kovold warns that the Viators, a previously unmentioned warrior species, are coming back after billions of years. Then… well, things get kind of weird, for the comic jumps years ahead to a time when Astrun is a Starfleet captain. He tells a cadet about his days at the Academy, including the Viator conflict—and she’s Fatimah Goldstein, Kamilah’s daughter from another timeline, as shown in issues #4–5. (Insert Dark Shadows‘ “bum-bum-bum!” music here.)
With the comic unceremoniously halted, several ongoing storylines were left unresolved. These included the nature of the Viators, Kyethn Zund’s suggested but unexplained past connection to the Romulan experiments, how and why Kamilah’s ghost appeared to Nog, the meaning behind the scene involving Fatimah, the source of Admiral Pradesh’s grudge against the squad in early issues, and the lingering question of whether or not he and/or Admiral Decker might have been Changelings. Several of these plot points would have been addressed had the comic continued beyond issue #19.
Cooper had already mapped out issues #20–29, an outline of which he posted at his now-defunct blog. In 2020, the writer graciously granted me permission for Eaglemoss to present that outline in volume 137 of the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection. The issues would have brought back Charles Evans, Christopher Pike, the Borg, the Jem’Hadar, and omnipotent trickster Q, who frequently spends his free time menacing Starfleet personnel for reasons only he knows. Also slated to appear were a Horta (“The Devil in the Dark”) and Gary Seven (“Assignment: Earth”).
There would have been time travel, because Star Trek officers can’t last more than twenty minutes without going back in time to screw up history. This time, the temporal mayhem would have seen the cadets witnessing the arrival of Y2K and the then-current AIDS crisis, in a story poignantly tackling the homelessness issue that is still prevalent today. Cooper had also planned to utilize the Department of Temporal Investigations (Deep Space Nine‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations”).
Ah, what might have been, had Marvel chosen to remain out on the final frontier just a little longer. Our look back at the publisher’s second Star Trek run is winding down, with only a few weeks left before we move on to the WildStorm era. Next time, we’ll wrap up Early Voyages with more adventures for the USS Enterprise crew under Captain Pike, after which we’ll examine Voyager‘s final tales and Marvel’s multiple one-shots.
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.