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.
104: IDW Publishing, 2013
The prime Star Trek timeline’s reimagining in IDW’s ongoing comic made few major changes to the franchise during its first 23 issues. There were of course divergences, as one would naturally expect in an alternate reality, such as episodes playing out differently and at earlier points in time. But other than the backstory for Landru in IDW’s “The Return of the Archons” remake being completely rewritten, the comics set in J.J. Abrams’ Kelvin timeline were, for the most part, immediately recognizable as classic Star Trek.
Then along came issue #24, and that was no longer the case. The comic focused on the Gorn Hegemony (“Arena”), and though it provided an enjoyable enough read, it diverged vastly from how Star Trek had long portrayed the reptilians. This was so much the case that had writer Mike Johnson not identified the aliens as Gorn in the text, readers might not have even realized that’s who they were meant to be—basically, a reversal of DC Comics’ “Return of the Worthy” arc, which had featured the Lath, a species who were definitely, absolutely, certainly not the Gorn.
The Kelvin Gorn slaughter Federation settlers on Parthenon 559, and Jim Kirk and the Enterprise crew respond to the mining colony’s distress call. The reptiles are a splinter group seeking a more peaceful life and claim the settlers attacked them first. This recalls how the invaders in “Arena” had turned out to be not the Hegemony, but rather the humans who’d inadvertently colonized one of their worlds. Kirk, therefore, removes the miners and quarantines the planet so the Gorn can avoid further outside contact, in a solution worthy of Star Trek’s core values.
Illustrated by Claudia Balboni, with a stunning Tim Bradstreet cover, the comic served as a sequel to the Star Trek video game released that year, developed by Digital Extremes and co-published by Namco Bandai Games for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. It’s great to see a story tie Trek’s comic and gaming arms together, but it’s also difficult to view these aliens as Gorn. Physically, the comic and game design is quite unlike how they’d appeared in “Arena,” and they now hail from outside the Milky Way. Plus, they don’t wear clothing, which is a shame since part of what made the Gorn so visually memorable was the short robe covering their torso but not their muscled limbs.
Bluntly put, the comic does not jibe well with established lore. Since the new timeline was spawned by the Kelvin’s destruction thirty years prior, the species should look the same in each reality, yet these reptiles have more in common with Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla redesign than they do with the 1960s Gorn. Even allowing for artistic interpretation, they should be Gorn-like. That being said, their extragalactic origin may solve the problem, since these could be a different species of Gorn.
The existence of multiple Gorn types, in fact, would account for the sleeker, more velociraptor-like design featured on Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as the round-headed and tusked Gorn re-sculpt devised for the 2009 Star Trek film’s Rura Penthe prison scenes, ultimately cut from the movie. Heck, it would even explain DC’s Lath. So the differences can be made to fit if one tries. Still, when the comic and game were first released, the Gorn’s new look was jarring. Interestingly, this version is closer physically to how the Gorn are now depicted on Strange New Worlds, so the comic has retroactively fared well thanks to that TV show.
Johnson’s story in issues #25–28, illustrated by Erfan Fajar with covers by Fajar and Garrie Gastonny, is loosely based on The Original Series’ “Balance of Terror,” but with events significantly altered by the 2009 movie and Star Trek Into Darkness. The premise is built around the Khitomer massacre by the Romulan Empire. The prime reality’s massacre was first mentioned in “Heart of Glory,” when Worf recalled how his parents had died. In this telling, the attack predates that one by eight decades, which is an enormous change, though it’s certainly possible Khitomer has been attacked more than once.
The Romulan strike is part of a plan to eliminate their Klingon rivals, and the fleet destroys the homeworld’s historic First City, mentioned in “Sins of the Father.” Fleet commander L’Nar is likely the Kelvin counterpart to Mark Lenard’s Romulan character from “Balance of Terror.” That isn’t explicitly stated, but it’s certainly hinted at, given the presence of an officer named Decius on both vessels, not to mention the name L’Nar. This version, however, bears facial tattoos like Nero’s, as does Decius.
Despite the Klingons’ anger over Kirk’s Qo’noS incursion in Star Trek Into Darkness, he risks war by bringing the Enterprise into Klingon space to render aid to the Khitomer colonists. But when the starship arrives, Commander Kor (“Errand of Mercy”) arrests Kirk’s landing party, accusing them of the atrocity. This mirrors the plot of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which Kirk and Leonard McCoy are accused of murdering Chancellor Gorkon while trying to save his life. It would not be the last time Johnson would incorporate aspects of that film into his alternate-timeline saga.
Kor’s warmongering involvement in this storyline makes narrative sense, as he’d captured the Narada crew in Star Trek: Nero, then had stoked the flames of nationalism in Star Trek issues #21–23 to push for war with the Federation. He is here drawn to match the Abrams films’ Klingon aesthetic, adding yet another look for the Dahar Master following his smooth- and ridge-headed appearances on The Original Series and Deep Space Nine, respectively. Kor is a Klingon of a thousand (well, three) faces.
Kor tortures Kirk until Section 31 operatives—who’d backed the Romulan campaign to set the Empires at each other’s throats—storm Qo’noS and assassinate the Klingon as he is about to execute Kirk. With Kor killed so early in history, future events (depicted in not only “Errand of Mercy,” but also The Animated Series’ “The Time Trap” and Deep Space Nine’s “Blood Oath,” “The Sword of Kahless,” and “Once More Unto the Breach”) must now play out quite differently in this timeline—or not at all.
The true antagonist is neither the Klingons nor the Romulans, though, who have been manipulated by Section 31. The latter’s goal: to spark a Romulan-Klingon war, thereby keeping Starfleet’s adversaries fighting each other instead of the Federation, and to get the remnants of Nero’s red matter out of Romulan hands. With that goal accomplished, the operatives betray L’Nar by destroying his fleet. They almost use the red matter to eradicate Qo’noS, but Kirk convinces them the mere threat of deploying the substance would keep the Federation safe without the need for genocide.
Among the operatives is Yuki Sulu, the younger sister of the Enterprise’s Hikaru Sulu. After he’d turned down an invitation to join Section 31, the organization had instead recruited his ambitious sibling—who, by story’s end, is now a fugitive since Starfleet is bent on purging its ranks of Section 31 agents in the wake of Admiral Marcus’s crimes during Into Darkness. Yuki is a character unique to the Kelvin timeline, but it would be fascinating to meet her prime counterpart, perhaps on Strange New Worlds or even in the upcoming Section 31 telefilm if she, too, is attached to that intelligence division.
A Vulcan named T’Pan had been Yuki’s roommate at Starfleet Academy, a possible reference to The Next Generation’s “Suspicions,” in which an adult T’Pan, leading the Vulcan Science Academy, had been wrongly suspected of murdering colleague Doctor Reyga. No connection is made between the two, but given Vulcan lifespans, as well as both T’Pans having romantic feelings for a human (the prime version was married to one, while the Kelvin analogue has a crush on Hikaru), this T’Pan may be the prime version’s counterpart. If so, their lives go in vastly different directions since this one dies more than a century before the era of The Next Generation.
The alternate timeline’s Zahra (“Operation—Annihilate!”) is among those captured while investigating the Khitomer massacre, though her appearance is a bit problematic. Starting with this arc, Zahra is no longer drawn with actor Maurishka Tagliaferro’s dark hair and Moroccan complexion from TV, as she had been in prior issues. Rather, she now sports short platinum hair and Caucasian skin, matching the look of a redshirt played by Jodi Johnston in Star Trek Into Darkness. This whitewashing is doubly regrettable coming so soon on the heels of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan-troversial casting.
Zahra’s suddenly altered appearance is unexplained, but the physical changes in Khan Noonien Singh are addressed, and impressively so, in IDW’s Khan miniseries. Next week, we’ll consider how Johnson bridged Cumberbatch’s portrayal with that of his predecessor, Ricardo Montalbán, in an engaging tale spanning both universes. Now go! Or stay—but do it because it is what you wish to do!
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.