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.
86: IDW Publishing, 2009
What was James T. Kirk’s final voyage as captain of the USS Enterprise? Well, that all depends on the source. Accounts throughout the years have differed widely in answering this question.
Concluding missions have been portrayed in J.M. Dillard’s The Lost Years; DC Comics’ second annual, by Mike W. Barr; Christopher Bennett’s Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History; David DeLee’s short story “Empty,” in Strange New Worlds #10; and DC’s Star Trek #75, by Howard Weinstein. Other accounts have appeared in David R. George III’s Star Trek: Crucible and David A. Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk. Meanwhile, Sonni Cooper’s Black Fire and other novels have depicted multiple, sometimes contradictory events leading up to the final voyage without actually showing the decommissioning itself. Most recently, IDW’s Star Trek: Year Five culminated in yet another telling of Kirk’s last hurrah.
Each of the above saw the crew undertake a different final voyage, so which represents the canonical end of the five-year mission in the prime timeline? In truth, none of them do, as the only bona fide canon is what airs onscreen, and no filmed or televised account has yet revealed the swan song for Kirk’s command. If Strange New Worlds leads to a new telling of The Original Series (which it could, as the show has already recast Kirk’s entire crew other than Janice Rand, Hikaru Sulu, and Pavel Chekov), then we might actually get a canonical final mission—but that also won’t be in the prime reality, since history has been changed thanks to Star Trek: Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Strange New Worlds (see It’s Been a Long Road Getting from There to Here).
That doesn’t mean fans can’t enjoy each telling in its own right. Star Trek is, after all, a multiverse. Rather than debating which licensed lore represents the “real” story, readers and viewers can simply view each as taking place in a separate universe. They all happened—just not in the same reality.
This week, we’ll examine yet another version: Ty Templeton’s 2009 IDW miniseries Star Trek: Mission’s End, illustrated by Stephen Molnar with covers by Kevin Maguire and Joe Corroney. This five-issue tale explains why Spock and Leonard McCoy retired from Starfleet, as well as how Kirk earned a promotion to the admiralty and became a deskbound paper-pusher. It involves a powerful superweapon, a covert Section 31 operation, and a religious war on a world inhabited by sapient insects, and along the way, the story offers a few prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to onscreen Star Trek.
As the story opens, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, along with Sulu, Chekov, Nyota Uhura, Christine Chapel, and Montgomery Scott, have roamed the final frontier for five years, with M’Ress and Arex joining them in The Animated Series. The latter duo appear in Mission’s End, though M’Ress is drawn differently than in the cartoon. They’ve made first contact with an array of worlds, resolved countless conflicts, and kept the Federation safe from Klingons, Romulans, Tholians, Gorns, Kzinti, and more. They’ve struggled and persevered, and now they’re ready to rest. First, though, they have one final mission to complete—well, this particular story’s take on the final mission, anyway.
Mission’s End introduces an arachnoid civilization on Archernar IV, an ancient space station where insects evolved intelligence after the base’s giant builders abandoned it millions of years ago. Its advanced machinery, which religious locals call the Heart of God, makes it viable as a warp-capable worldship, or as a powerful weapons platform of inexhaustible power. That’s why Section 31 is determined to take it, so much so that they’ve conspired with the Orion Syndicate, drawn here to resemble their depiction in Star Trek: Enterprise’s “Borderland.”
Kirk has been to this world before, not long after assuming command of the Enterprise. Joining him on that earlier mission were Gary Mitchell, Lee Kelso, and Mark Piper, all from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” who show up in flashback sequences. Though none have major roles in Mission’s End, readers learn something interesting about Kelso: he has an irrational fear of bugs, which nearly derails first contact when he starts to draw his phaser on the massive talking spiders during a tense moment.
In the five years since that mission, Kelso and Mitchell have died, McCoy has replaced Piper, and Archernar IV has not only welcomed the Federation but sought membership. Admiral Nogura (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and Ambassador Sarek (“Journey to Babel”) draft a treaty, and the Enterprise crew returns for the signing ceremony. The problem? Many locals are anti-Federation, including the leader’s son, who mounts a failed coup to assassinate his own father. What’s more, McCoy discovers that the “low” insects which the “high” ruling class treat as pack animals are not the dumb brutes they appear to be—they’re sapient, and they’re enslaved.
Nogura’s role in this story is noteworthy, given the implication in D.C. Fontana’s Star Trek: Year Four—Enterprise Experiment that he, too, was attached to Section 31. An operative infiltrates the Enterprise crew to assist the Orions; could Nogura have sent him? Of course, at no point does Templeton imply his involvement other than his having crafted the treaty, but Fontana’s revelation does cast a new light on the admiral, calling into question other appearances, such as in this story. For example, did he give Kirk back the Enterprise in The Motion Picture so Section 31 could get its hands on V’Ger? Hmm.
In any case, the “lows” steal vital engine components, which they worship as divine. The destabilized platform thus emits dangerous energies, building toward a catastrophic black hole. To make matters worse, the Orions surround the Enterprise, intent on obtaining the station’s secrets. The officers convince the “lows” to return the parts to the “highs,” and the two cultures together make repairs. As it happens, the Heart of God’s original purpose was inter-dimensional travel, and once repaired it jumps to another plane of existence, carrying the Orions away with it—quite literally a deus ex machina.
The Enterprise concludes its five-year mission, with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy charting separate new paths. Mission’s End thus serves as not only an epilogue to The Original Series, but a prelude to The Motion Picture, laying the groundwork for the characters’ status quo in that film. Nogura offers Kirk the admiralty and Jim accepts his new role, partly because the Archernar mission went awry due to mistakes on Starfleet’s end, and he realizes he can offer more value as an admiral than as a captain—a decision with which his close friends of course disagree. Most of the staff remains onboard as the starship prepares for refit. Kirk asks Spock to succeed him as captain, and McCoy to command the medical ship Galen, but to his dismay, both decline.
Bones has grown tired of Starfleet, and Spock has come to realize the depth of feeling he has for his friends has clouded his logic, which retroactively dovetails quite nicely with Spock’s arc on Short Treks and Strange New Worlds, as well as with how Star Trek: Discovery portrayed the heavy guilt trip Sarek laid on his children for having emotions (see Sarek of Vulcan: Star Trek‘s Worst Father). So the good doctor resigns, enabling him to visit his wife Natira on Yonada (“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), while Spock declares his intention to return to Vulcan and pursue kolinahr. Readers know this will be the outcome from the outset since they’ve seen the movie, but Templeton pulls it off well, and Kirk’s disappointment at seeing his confidantes embark on journeys without him is palpable.
The writer cleverly addresses what is arguably the classic show’s most sexist premise: the appalling notion, in “Turnabout Intruder,” that women three centuries from now would not be allowed to command starships. Even in the 1960s, this would have been a terrible prediction to make about the future, especially on a forward-thinking show like Star Trek. After being promoted, Kirk convinces Starfleet to lift the “unofficial” restrictions that, according to Janice Lester, prevent female officers from serving as captains. It’s good to see Jim take such a stance on women’s behalf, but it does give surprising credence to Lester’s dubious and un-Starfleet-like claim.
Personally, I’ve always assumed Janice was barred from the captain’s chair not due to her gender, but because Starfleet viewed her as unqualified for the job. She was, after all, quite unstable (see Janice Lester: Denied Command Due to Gender or Insanity?). I interpret her comment “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women” to be a metaphorical one: Kirk prioritized his career over their relationship—it’s his world that doesn’t admit women, not Starfleet’s.
The literal interpretation that Starfleet had such a rule in place is a valid one since that’s what the episode says… but if that’s the case, it paints the organization in a problematic light, even if the policy was only “unofficial.” That’s the sort of conversation that makes Star Trek worth watching and reading about, so kudos to Ty Templeton for presenting something meaty to ponder. Next week, we’ll return to IDW’s Alien Spotlight, with six more tales examining the franchise’s many non-human species.
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.