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.
85: IDW Publishing, 2009
It’s been two years since this column began exploring how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to episodes and films. Since the first installment, we’ve discussed more than forty years’ worth of stories from multiple publishers, ranging from Gold Key’s debut to the arrival of current license holder IDW. During its first few years at the helm, IDW frequently revisited the characters and situations from the franchise’s pilot, “The Cage.” So let’s boldly go back to a time before that episode’s events.
John Byrne’s Romulans saga was a thrill, not only for its portrayal of the Romulan Empire’s politics and culture, but for its spotlight on a more seasoned Number One (now known as Una Chin-Riley, per Strange New Worlds) a decade after “The Cage.” The writer brought back Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln in Assignment: Earth, offering a glimpse of what that aborted spinoff might have been like, and Byrne’s next contribution to the franchise, Star Trek: Crew, connected these prior storylines as a linked narrative.
With Crew, Byrne tied one of Seven’s missions from Assignment: Earth to Una’s earliest days in Starfleet. This week’s column considers how Crew not only served as a prequel to “The Cage” but also gave the future first officer more of a chance to shine than the pilot afforded. The five-issue miniseries was written and illustrated by Byrne, who provided his own cover art for each chapter. Initially proposed as a graphic novel, Crew was announced as a six-parter before being reduced to five issues.
Since the miniseries hit stores years before Short Treks existed, the name Una (introduced in Greg Cox’s novel Captain to Captain) was not yet Number One’s official designation, nor was it the only one assigned in licensed lore. She’d also been called Robbins (Marvel’s Star Trek: Early Voyages), Lefler (Jerry Oltion’s Where Sea Meets Sky), and Leigh Hudec (William Rotsler’s Star Trek II: Biographies), with D.C. Fontana’s Vulcan’s Glory indicating her name was actually Number One. Peter David’s The Rift, David Stern’s The Children of Kings, and Greg Cox’s Child of Two Worlds claimed her name was unpronounceable or difficult to pronounce (which none of the above are), and some online sources claim she is Morgan Primus, from the New Frontier novels.
With William Riker, Star Trek: The Next Generation revealed “Number One” to be a nickname used for first officers, Chin-Riley’s position in “The Cage.” Since Crew is set before her first-officer days, it would have made no sense for Byrne to call her Number One in the miniseries. The problem was that Paramount had not officially nailed down a name. Rather than add yet another to the mix, the author employed an amusing running gag reminiscent of Morn’s aborted attempts to speak on Deep Space Nine, with Una almost mentioning her name on several occasions, only to be interrupted every time.
As a cadet, Chin-Riley is assigned to a shakedown cruise of NX-0002, the un-commissioned USS Enterprise—a callback to the numbering established for Star Trek: Enterprise, in which Jonathan Archer’s starship was the NX-01. She serves aboard the USS Fortune and Ventura before returning to the Enterprise, commanded by Robert April. Star Trek: The Animated Series’ “The Counter-Clock Incident” had introduced April as the starship’s first captain, prior to Christopher Pike and James T. Kirk, but Crew adds another commander to the lineup before April: Admiral Charles Rasmussen, who’d commanded the vessel during the shakedown, when it was not yet called Enterprise.
Pike here serves with Chin-Riley aboard the Enterprise, and he’s soon named April’s first officer, consistent with DC’s debut Star Trek annual (a rare case of Trek publishers not contradicting their predecessors). Philip Boyce serves as temporary chief medical officer during the shakedown, before Sarah April (Robert’s wife in “The Counter-Clock Incident,” who oddly enough has not yet been mentioned on Strange New Worlds) becomes the permanent CMO. Boyce would return to the position before “The Cage,” making him fair game for inclusion on Strange New Worlds (note to the show’s writers: please do so). Byrne displays a strong grasp of “The Cage”’ and makes use of the pilot’s archaic terminology, such as expressing speed in terms of “time warp factors.”
Spock is in April’s crew, contradicting IDW’s Alien Spotlight: The Vulcans, in which he’d signed aboard after Pike became captain, something Short Treks’ “Q&A” confirmed. April is drawn not as he showed up in the cartoon series, but rather how he appeared in The Star Trek Encyclopedia, by Michael and Denise Okuda, in which he was represented by a photo of Gene Roddenberry wearing an old-style uniform. Contradictions are not uncommon in the novels and comics, with each publisher offering its own take on the characters. In this case, though, the discrepancy is surprising since Alien Spotlight had been published by the same company only a year prior.
In issue #1, Cadet Chin-Riley is assigned to the NX-0002’s shakedown as an engineer under Rasmussen. When Klingon saboteurs attempt to destroy the starship, the admiral helps Una save the crew, after which she turns down the first of several promotions offered by Starfleet. The elderly Rasmussen is a welcome addition to the starship’s proud history (it’d be wonderful to have Strange New Worlds refer to him, though it’s probably unrealistic to expect that), and his sole appearance in Star Trek calls back to dialogue from a classic 1960s episode.
Rasmussen oversees the cadets’ training, and as an old man no longer given exciting assignments, he’s well aware other officers call him “an old dunsel,” a term midshipmen use to describe parts serving no useful purpose, per “The Ultimate Computer.” (Starfleet officers are insensitive, ageist jerks.) Critically injured during the Klingon attack—his entire arm is shot off by a disruptor—Rasmussen sacrifices his life to destroy the enemy and save the crew, earning a posthumous commendation and regaining the respect he never should have lost in the first place just for getting older.
The second issue sees Chin-Riley assigned to the Fortune, which responds to a colony’s distress call. She and a landing party find the colonists dead, then the ship is attacked by aliens who are never identified, though their ship looks Ferengi-like in design. The Fortune is destroyed and half the crew dies, but Una beams the others to safety. It’s Una’s actions that consistently save the day in Crew (naturally—she’s the number-one star), but despite receiving commendations galore for her bravery and ingenuity, she repeatedly turns down promotions for reasons she keeps to herself. When asked why, she smiles and admits to Pike—the ship’s Number One—that she wants his job. Wink, wink.
Chin-Riley serves aboard the Ventura in issue #3, in which the vessel visits a world along the Romulan Neutral Zone. The colony was established by humans who’d left Earth in a sleeper ship after the Eugenics Wars, seeking a simpler life. This premise ties the issue to “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and to other episodes by extension, including The Animated Series’ “The Infinite Vulcan,” The Next Generation’s “Up the Long Ladder,” Enterprise’s “Borderland,” and more. It also connects the issue to Gold Key’s Star Trek #10, the very first Star Trek comic sequel to a TV episode, in which James T. Kirk encountered humans who’d left Earth to protest the wars. Strange New Worlds’ “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” has likely negated every one of these stories, so it’s all kind of moot now.
Landing on an Earth-like planet, the colonists had found an inhospitable environment that left them infertile, and all of them perished. The last surviving colonist had then reprogrammed a robot to give it sentience, and when he’d died it recreated the colonists as androids using their corpses’ RNA, as a way of memorializing its fallen masters. The robot tries to replace the Ventura crew with androids as well, but Chin-Riley damages the automaton, after which she’s promoted to lieutenant and reassigned to the Enterprise following a five-year absence, this time in an official capacity.
It’s the fourth issue that revisits Assignment: Earth. Una and Pike find themselves in the midst of a war zone—a war fought by hundreds of identical clones. A soldier explains that his people, introduced in Assignment: Earth issue #3, had been genetically bred for war. Gary Seven had exiled then from Earth in 1969, as depicted in that miniseries, and they’ve been fighting ever since. Starfleet opts not to intervene in the conflict, though the story would continue in Byrne’s Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, to be discussed in an upcoming column.
After her time with the clones, Una becomes fascinated with Roberta Lincoln and researches her exploits. She learns that Roberta vanished in 2039 at age ninety-one and was last seen walking away carrying a black cat—who, as fans know, is the shapeshifter Isis. Roberta apparently liked to reminisce about her time with the mysterious agent, and when she was in her seventies, her granddaughter published a series of novels about those exploits, neatly explaining how Kirk and Spock, in the 1960s episode, could have looked up their adventures in the Enterprise’s computer.
The final issue, set three years later, takes Star Trek’s frequent use of time travel to a whole new level, as the Enterprise is propelled a whopping one hundred billion years into the future. The starship discovers that the Alpha Eridani star system is missing, as are sixteen others. A Telepathic aliens harness the stars’ energy in a futile effort to halt the entropic death of the universe, an intriguing concept that would have made for a great novel instead of being wrapped up quickly in a 24-page comic.
The crew rapidly decay until the vortex sends them home again, restoring their forms. Thus, the story pays homage to “The Counter-Clock Incident,” as this rapid-aging and subsequent restoration are a reversal of the de-aging the Aprils and Kirk’s crew underwent in the cartoon. The story also connects with “Wolf in the Fold,” in which Redjac, the entity who’d possessed the serial killer Jack the Ripper, was said to have murdered ten women at an Alpha Eridani settlement in 2156. In this issue, the star’s fifteen planets are all uninhabited a century later; perhaps Redjac scared them all away… or perhaps he killed a lot more than ten people.
Byrne never penned a sequel to Crew but he should have, for in writing Number One, Pike, April, Boyce, and other characters from the pre-Kirk days, he made them all more interesting than they were onscreen. It’s not entirely clear why the series is titled Crew—as opposed to, say, Star Trek: Number One—but Byrne can take pride in how well he executed his examination of Una’s past. Crew revealed the Enterprise’s shakedown under a previously unrecorded captain, and next week’s column will provide a bookend of sorts, as writer Ty Templeton chronicles the starship’s closing adventures under Captain James Kirk in IDW’s Star Trek: Mission’s End.
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.