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.
64: Marvel Comics, 1998
In 1966, “The Menagerie” afforded viewers a tantalizing glimpse at what Star Trek might have been had it retained the original cast from its first pilot, “The Cage.” In recent years, Strange New Worlds has done the same on a much larger scale. Licensed publishers were presenting adventures for the pre-Kirk crew long before Anson Mount breathed new life into Christopher Pike, but Marvel was the first to devote an entire series to that iteration of the franchise. Written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edgington, Star Trek: Early Voyages fleshed out the pilot’s characters while adding several new crewmembers to the mix.
Early Voyages spanned only seventeen chapters, but while it lasted the series was among the high points of 1990s Star Trek. The concluding issues offered an exciting range of prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to onscreen Trek, making it doubly tragic when Marvel canceled the comic with little notice, preventing the creative team from wrapping up their narrative. This final batch features exquisite artwork by Greg Adams, Michael Collins, Steve Moncuse, Javier Pulido, and Patrick Zircher, and it opens with a time-travel four-parter in issues #12–15, following the prior issues’ Chakuun conflict.
The starship visits Algol II, the site of the Well of Tomorrows, a time portal similar to the Guardian of Forever (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), though this time the temporal journey takes characters forward rather than backwards. An ancient “keepsake” shows José Tyler a future in which he commands a starship and wears a film-era maroon uniform. There’s a Vulcan officer whom some websites identify as Star Trek: Voyager‘s Tuvok, though he’s not named and his hairline does not match Tim Russ’s; fans seem to be basing this assumption entirely on the character’s skin color, which is cringey. The keepsake transports J. Mia Colt to another timeline in which James Kirk never commanded the Enterprise, and in which she has been missing for decades.
After Starfleet offers Number One (Una Chin-Riley) her own command, Phil Boyce notes that the organization “could do with more female captains,” calling back to Janice Lester’s accusation, in “Turnabout Intruder,” that women were not allowed in Kirk’s world of starship captains. The comic retcons this dated and sexist notion, which clearly stemmed more from Lester’s skewed perceptions (see Janice Lester: Denied Command Due to Gender or Insanity?) than from any actual Starfleet regulations restricting women from rising up in rank. This is evidenced by the existence of female captains on Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery, both set before “Turnabout Intruder.”
Robert April, Pike’s predecessor per The Animated Series‘ “The Counter-Clock Incident,” returns to the starship in a supervisory capacity when Pike, Boyce, and Spock embark on a covert mission, and the character’s use in this story is the only notable misstep in all of Early Voyages. April is here an admiral, matching his rank on Strange New Worlds (the cartoon made him a commodore, a lesser rank, a decade later), and he is alarmingly misogynistic. His male chauvinism aligns with Lester’s accusations, which makes him highly unlikable. It just doesn’t jibe with the man’s positive portrayal in other licensed fiction, nor with his persona on The Animated Series.
The keepsake deposits Colt on the Enterprise, displayed at the Smithsonian Museum, decades in the future. Kirk here commands a merchant freighter, with Montgomery Scott in his crew of disgraced Starfleet officers, and they vow to help her find a way home. But en route to Algol II, which the Klingons have annexed in that reality, they encounter General Chang, from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Luckily, the Enterprise-A, commanded by an older Chris Pike, with Hikaru Sulu and Savvik in his crew, comes to their rescue.
Following Colt’s disappearance, Kirk had been assigned to the Enterprise as Pike’s yeoman instead of serving with Captain Garrovick aboard the Farragut (The Original Series‘ “Obsession”—Strange New Worlds has since given Kirk a higher rank aboard the latter vessel), which put him on a less illustrious career path. Unable to get along with Pike, Jim quit Starfleet to work in the commercial sector, commanding the freighter Bounty—the same name his crew would rechristen the Klingon Bird-of-Prey in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When Pike and Kirk are reunited, Chris pummels him on the bridge for mouthing off, a dynamic that similarly played out in the 2009 film, but with Spock knocking a rebellious, black-clad Jim Kirk to the deck.
Parallels to The Undiscovered Country are front and center. Chang sports an eye patch and quotes Shakespeare for dramatic effect, just as he did onscreen, and he even utters some of the same dialogue, including an order to “blow them from the stars.” Una commands the Excelsior instead of Sulu, yet in an effective nod to the movie, she enjoys a cup of tea in the captain’s chair, then comes to the aid of her former commander and shipmates when Chang goes on the offensive.
Colt’s arrival in future San Francisco provides other film connections as well. Pursued by Starfleet Security, she evades arrest at the museum by swinging from the rigging of a seagoing vessel called the Enterprise. This appears to be the same frigate featured on a rec-deck painting in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well as in Jonathan Archer’s ready room on Star Trek: Enterprise. What’s more, she and Kirk dine at an eatery called the Phoenix Tavern, which displays Zefram Cochrane’s historic warp-speed rocket from Star Trek: First Contact, suspended above patrons’ heads.
Pike’s crew are shocked to see Mia alive and unaged—particularly Tyler, who still loves her—and they offer their assistance, but Starfleet orders the Excelsior to prevent them from inciting a war with the Empire. What follows is a bloodbath (which writers tend to revel in when depicting alternate timelines, since the “real” characters survive unscathed), as Sulu, Scotty, Saavik, and others all perish in agony during the battle with the Klingons. They eventually locate the Well of Tomorrows, and Colt successfully jumps through the portal and returns to younger Tyler’s waiting arms.
In addition to “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Abnett and Edginton riff on other episodes and films as well. Pike’s willingness to risk his career to send the yeoman back to her own era mirrors Spock’s risk-taking to bring the disfigured Pike happiness in “The Menagerie,” not to mention Kirk and company’s actions on Spock’s behalf in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. What’s more, Pike opts to destroy his own vessel following Saavik’s demise, just as Kirk had done after David Marcus was murdered by Klingons.
Back in the “present,” the keepsake gives Pike foreknowledge of his fate as a disfigured invalid in “The Menagerie”—which proved prophetic when Star Trek: Discovery aired “Through the Valley of Shadows.” In that episode, as in the comic, Pike learns of his disturbing fate due to revelations granted to him by alien technology. On Discovery, Pike accepts his grim future rather than trying to avoid it, knowing he would save the lives of imperiled cadets, whereas Early Voyages‘ cancelation prevented the writers from exploring his reaction to this devastating news.
Following the four-parter, the writers launched another multi-issue storyline that abruptly halted after issues #16 and 17. Pike, Boyce, and Spock are surgically altered to infiltrate the pre-industrial Temazi and expose Klingon operatives plotting to steal an ancient weapons cache called Thanatos. The locals attack the off-worlders, summoning the Thanatos platform to dispatch war machines on the ground and in orbit. Pike’s nemesis Kaaj, from earlier in the series, leads the Klingon spies, and when he tries to murder Pike to avenge past grievances, both groups are denounced as demons by the xenophobic Temazi.
Kaaj identifies himself as “son of Torg,” implying a familial relationship with Torg from Kruge’s crew in Star Trek III. He sacrifices his life to destroy the land-based weapons, thereby restoring his honor, whereas April further damages his own reputation with some rather dubious decisions. His order to fire on the war machines results in a shockwave that causes Pike’s shuttle to vanish, and Una to be critically injured when the blast rocks the starship. And then… well, that’s where the comic ends.
In the midst of all this mayhem, cocky engineer Shane Samson becomes Tyler’s rival for Colt’s affection, though Early Voyages‘ premature cancelation precluded the love triangle’s development beyond a few panels. The series left other arcs dangling as well, through no fault of the authors, including the shuttle’s whereabouts, the outcome of the Algol II battle, the severity of Una’s injuries, and Pike’s turmoil over his physical deterioration, along with unresolved tension between the captain and his father from earlier in the run. (As of this column’s updating in September 2023, Strange New Worlds has not yet mentioned Colt—or Boyce, for that matter—so her future remains unknown.)
Regrettably, Edginton and Abnett retain no records of what they’d planned next, so we’ll likely never know how any of this would have turned out unless IDW or Pocket brings them back to finish what they’d started (hint, hint). In any case, the end is nigh for Marvel’s second Star Trek tenure, and we’ll return to the Delta Quadrant next week to resume our discussion of the monthly Voyager title. Set a course for the Badlands, Mr. Paris.
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.