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.
101: IDW Publishing, 2012–2013
The continuing journey to examine how comics offer prequels, sequels, tie-ins to—and re-imaginings of—onscreen Star Trek has reached issues #14-20 of IDW’s ongoing monthly title based on director J.J. Abrams’ film series. Primarily written by Mike Johnson, with Ryan Parrott scripting two chapters, this span of stories was drawn by Stephen Molnar and other artists, with Tim Bradstreet providing the striking covers.
These were the final issues set before the events of Star Trek Into Darkness, with issue #21 beginning a new post-film arc. Johnson took this opportunity to explore the earlier lives of the seven main cast members of this alternate reality before, during, and after their experiences at Starfleet Academy. First, though, he delved into the backgrounds of the lovable new addition to the cast, the diminutive engineer Keenser, in issue #14.
Frustrated at being smaller than his shipmates, Keenser recalls the irony of how children on his homeworld (Royla, named after actor Deep Roy) had bullied him for being a giant among his people. A technological genius even as a youth, Keenser had decided to join Starfleet after the USS Kelvin had made first contact with Royla, and he’d left his planet with the visiting crew—movie characters Richard Robau, George Kirk, and Alnschloss K’Bentayr—after helping them repair their damaged shuttle.
The comic’s big reveal is that Keenser had predated Montgomery Scott at the Delta Vega facility by several years, and that he’d been the chief engineer with a large staff before the base had fallen into disrepair. In other words, despite how it might have seemed onscreen, Scotty had reported to him, not the other way around; apparently, Jim Kirk and Spock were not the only officers to switch hierarchical roles in the movie.
Issues #15–16 features a well-crafted storyline inspired by Jerome Bixby’s classic episode “Mirror, Mirror,” with Scotty attempting to explain the concept of alternate timelines to a befuddled Leonard McCoy. Scotty cites a hypothetical “mirror” universe—not the one shown on TV, but a separate, similar reality reimagining the Kelvin timeline—in which a tyrannical Terran Empire defeats the Klingons and goes on to rule the galaxy. McCoy finds the idea absurd, though the crew would actually meet their mirror counterparts in a later arc, to be discussed in the coming months.
In this mirror reality, Spock (who, naturally, wears a goatee) commands the Enterprise due to Nero having altered history, with a facially scarred Kirk plotting a coup. Kirk murders the Romulan at Rura Penthe, then steals the Narada and tries to destroy Vulcan with red matter, riffing on the film’s events. Ultimately, in a twist reminiscent of mirror-Hoshi Sato’s power play in Star Trek: Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly,” Nyota Uhura (Spock’s lover in this reality as well) assumes command of the starship upon Kirk’s assassination.
Bruce Greenwood’s version of Christopher Pike is a senator in this reality rather than an admiral, and he sports an eyepatch and a movie-style maroon uniform similar to those introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This has the effect of making Pike even more impressive-looking than he already was. After all, it’s not just beards that denote characters being from darker, grittier universes; eyepatches and military-style uniforms work equally well. Just ask General Chang.
In this other reality, Gorkon is already the Klingon Chancellor in 2258, thirty-five years before the setting of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Moreover, he’s drawn to match the Abrams films’ Klingon aesthetic rather than how he appears in the movie, and when he refuses to vow fealty to Earth, Spock has the warrior beheaded. This illustrates how vastly different the two realities (or four, if you count the prime timeline and its own mirror counterpart) are. Gorkon’s Yan-Isleth warriors are said to have failed to protect him, providing a deep cut into Deep Space Nine, for a member of that elite division had protected the Changeling posing as Gowron in “Apocalypse Rising.”
While struggling to save a dying crewman in issue #17, McCoy recalls how he had followed his father into the medical field, and how he’d met ex-wife Pamela Branch while studying medicine at the University of Mississippi. The wife’s name has changed from one licensed source to the next, as she’s also been called Joann Zauber, Elinor Lee, Gillian, Miriam, and Jocelyn Treadway throughout the decades. This is another universe, though, so the name Pamela might not constitute an inconsistency. She could simply be another woman entirely.
It should be noted that while the Kelvin timeline’s McCoy is from Mississippi, the prime Bones had hailed from Georgia. In any case, this issue is among the few stories to feature McCoy’s father David (so named in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, then depicted in his dying days in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). Here, a flashback to Leonard’s childhood features the alternate David as a kindly young doctor with his own clinic, and he’s drawn to resemble actor Karl Urban, cementing their familial relationship.
Uhura and Spock take the spotlight in issue #18. The two begin dating on the day she completes his Academy linguistics course and is no longer his student. Months later, the couple mind-meld and share their most intimate memories. Hers is of a family shuttle trip when a malfunction nearly killed her parents, resulting in her Uncle Raheem burning up in a planet’s atmosphere. It’s a touching, tragic tale of love and loss, and it’s fascinating that the shuttle backstory was years later mirrored in prime Uhura’s family history, per Strange New Worlds’ “Children of the Comet” and “Lost in Translation”—though in the prime version, her parents and brother all die in the accident.
Issue #19 is unique in the annals of Star Trek comics, as it brings back a character from the Gold Key years! As children, Scotty and his brother Robbie sneak aboard a Starfleet vessel under construction, sparking Monty’s love of engineering. Scotty had told Spock about Robbie in Gold Key’s issue #40 (but with his name spelled “Robby”), making this the only post-Gold Key comic ever to reference a character unique to that publisher’s run. Alas, Johnson did not bring back Gold Key’s Barbara McCoy, nor did he incorporate Bones’ daughter Joanna, so it’s unclear if he’s a father in this timeline.
Due to Scotty’s reputation for taking unnecessary risks, Starfleet denies his application, so he signs aboard freighters to earn space-travel experience. After he saves a Starfleet vessel from an imminent engine disaster, that ship’s captain vouches for him to Commander Marcus, presumably the future admiral from Star Trek: Into Darkness, who helps him enlist. Ultimately, his penchant for unorthodox experiments gets him in trouble again when he makes Admiral Archer’s beagle disappear during an unsanctioned transporter test, earning him banishment and setting up his 2009 film status.
One of Scotty’s ancestors apparently served aboard the HMS Enterprise. If that sounds familiar, it’s because a vessel of that same name (though spelled slightly differently) appeared in the opening credits of Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s thus fitting that a descendant of that show’s Malcolm Reed appears in issue #20 as Hikaru Sulu’s best friend, David Reed. That chapter offers a combined backstory for Sulu and Pavel Chekov.
Sulu is invited to join Red Squad, an elite cadet group (debuting in Deep Space Nine’s “Homefront”) who receive advanced field training and are often short-listed for the captaincy. But when his squad leader orders him to take part in an initiation that could get him expelled or killed, Hikaru realizes the team does not share his values and declines the invitation. Interestingly, Red Squad was a relatively new idea in the episode, whereas the Kelvin analogue exists a century prior, consistent with other accelerated developments following Nero’s temporal incursion.
That squad leader is Amy McKenna, who frequently bullies Chekov due to his whiz-kid youth and small stature. Upper-classman Kirk asks Chekov to program a subroutine enabling him to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test, then tricks Gaila (his Orion lover in the 2009 film) into uploading it into the simulator. This seems a common Kirk motif in both universes, given the events of DC Comics’ second Star Trek Annual, in which he’d convinced his Academy friends to help him cheat.
Admiral Richard Barnett, who’d presided over Kirk’s hearing onscreen, officiates at an awards ceremony for McKenna. As revenge for her bullying, Chekov builds a device to teleport Belzoidian fleas onstage, referencing The Next Generation’s “Deja Q,” in which Q had considered taking the insect’s form after being stripped of his powers. Kirk talks him out of it, but Chekov has the last laugh, for a lungworm infection prevents Amy and her brother Kyle—the same McKenna mentioned in the movie—from joining the Enterprise crew. What’s weird about this is that humans are not susceptible to lungworm, a real-world parasitic nematode found in dogs, cattle, and other mammals.
Next week’s column will discuss IDW’s Hive, a miniseries prophetically bringing together The Next Generation’s Jean-Luc Picard and Voyager’s Seven of Nine for a Borg-centric adventure, nearly a decade before that would occur onscreen on Star Trek: Picard. We’ll also revisit a comic from writer Morgan Gendel that provided a sequel to his fan-favorite episode “The Outer Light.”
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.