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.
82: IDW Publishing, 2008–2010
As previously discussed, John Byrne’s Alien Spotlight: Romulans served as a prequel to the classic Star Trek tale “Balance of Terror” by filling in the family life of Mark Lenard’s unnamed Romulan commander, dubbed “Keras” by the Star Trek Customizable Card Game. Byrne introduced a buffoonish Praetor who ruled the Romulan Star Empire based on his erratic whims rather than on what was good for Romulus, while revealing the origin of the stealth ship seen on television. It was glorious.
That story, which Byrne scripted and illustrated, struck a chord with readers, and so he was invited back to continue examining the Romulans. IDW published two follow-ups set after the episode’s events: the two-issue Romulans: The Hollow Crown and the three-part Romulans: Schism. These stories tied in not only to “Balance of Terror” but also to “Errand of Mercy” and “The Trouble with Tribbles,” for they costarred Commander Kor and Captain Koloth from those episodes.
The devious Klingons covertly manipulate the Praetor and his naïve successor into prodding the Federation into another war, and Byrne’s saga explores the brief alliance that existed between the two Empires. “The Enterprise Incident” had noted that Starfleet intelligence reports indicated the Romulans were using ships of Klingon design. No alliance was mentioned outright, though 1968’s The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, revealed the writers had, indeed, intended for the governments to be allied against a common foe—naturally, since it was cheaper from a production standpoint to be able to use props and ship models interchangeably.
This “mutual assistance military pact,” as Harve Bennett described it in a 1986 Starlog interview, explains why Klingons have flown modified Birds-of-Prey since Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, why they have cloaking devices, and why the Romulans began using D7-class cruisers. Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery both muddied the waters on that issue, by showing the Klingons to have already operated Birds-of-Prey in the 22nd century, and to have possessed cloaking technology a decade before The Original Series. However, clever writers can make it all work, and in the comics, prose fiction, and role-playing games, many have.
At some point, the partnership degenerated into bitter hatred, though details of the alliance and its cessation have been spotty. The changing relationship was mentioned on Star Trek: The Next Generation, in such episodes as “The Neutral Zone” and “Reunion,” in vague, contradictory comments from Worf and other characters. The Hollow Crown opens after “Balance of Terror,” and Byrne makes sense of the alliance-turned-animosity, even if later stories have negated his efforts, and even if he somewhat contradicts IDW’s own Year Four: Enterprise Experiment. Lenard’s character Keras has died onscreen, and now the Praetor, outraged at losing his prized vessel, is punishing the man’s family (wife Arenn and son Gaius) in retribution.
This runs contrary to the Klingons’ plans, as the Emperor (the existence of whom, by the way, contradicts the episode “Rightful Heir”) wants him to marry Arenn and promote Gaius through the ranks. The two, it seems, have become vocal rivals of the Praetor, and the Klingons understand the need to keep enemies close. The Praetor, of course, plays right into the Klingons’ hands. Arenn accepts the proposal, but it’s just a ruse—she has plans of her own that don’t include sharing a bed with a dishonorable, disgusting tyrant. After coercing him to name Gaius his heir, she kills the man on their wedding night, in one of the most gruesome scenes ever to grace a Trek comic.
As Praetor, Gaius vows to make James T. Kirk and the Federation pay for his family’s pain, due to the Klingons having misled him into thinking Kirk murdered his father. The Hollow Crown and Schism are complex and smart, with each Romulan plotting and manipulating according to their own personal agenda. The Klingons are no different as they scheme to set the Romulans and Federation at each other’s throats as a means of circumventing the Organian Peace Treaty (imposed on Starfleet and the Empire in “Errand of Mercy”) since the Romulans were not part of that forced détente.
Arenn’s actions throw that plan into disarray, and the Emperor is none too pleased. They try again with the new Praetor, who is so driven to avenge his father that he fails to realize he’s a puppet. The plan almost succeeds, but the Organians stop the war and chastise the immature children ruining the galactic playground. The Emperor sentences the two warriors to prison, but Kor convinces him to promote them instead, claiming they were exposing a traitor in their midst: the Emperor’s own daughter. (Ironically, Koloth had been helping her overthrow her father since the two were lovers.)
Schism sees the return of a Number One from “The Cage.” The enigmatic Una Chin-Riley has been promoted to commodore in the years since the pilot. She now commands the USS Yorktown, a starship mentioned in “Obsession” and disabled by the whale probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, in which the ship was commanded by Captain Joel Randolph (per the script). While testing a prototype cloaking device based on stolen Romulan tech, the Yorktown is attacked first by Klingons, then by Romulans, and Una proves her impressive competence even as she withstands torture.
Combined with the Alien Spotlight issue, The Hollow Crown and Schism serve as both a prologue and a coda to “Balance of Terror.” Byrne’s saga has a beginning (the alliance’s formation, as well as Keras’s assignment to his onscreen mission), a middle (Gaius becoming Praetor following the episode’s events, then succumbing to Klingon manipulation), and a conclusion (the poisoning of Klingon-Romulan relations, setting the stage for the mutual hatred displayed on The Next Generation).
Only one thing was missing in all this: the episode itself. Thus, when the three tales were collected in 2010 as the trade paperback Star Trek: Romulans—Pawns of War, IDW commissioned an exclusive 12-page adaptation of “Balance of Terror” from Byrne for insertion between Alien Spotlight and The Hollow Crown. The adaptation, told from the Romulans’ perspective instead of Starfleet’s—Kirk is the guest star this time around—became the book’s second chapter, providing connective tissue to tie the pre- and post-episode stories together as a single arc.
John Byrne’s Romulan saga is a highlight of the early IDW years. It would not be the author’s final word on the franchise, as multiple other titles would follow, including Star Trek: Crew, once again starring Number One. We’ll get to Crew fairly soon, but first we’ll traverse myriad universes to meet The Last Generation, courtesy of Andrew Steven Harris, Gordon Purcell, Bob Almond, and Terry Pallot.
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.