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.
109: DC Comics and First Comics, 1991
I’d neglected to cover a story I’d intended to discuss months ago, so let’s pause the regularly scheduled column and return to Peter David’s run on DC’s monthly comic based on The Original Series. As explained previously, David left the comic due to his dissatisfaction with corporate edicts that had interfered with his ability to tell stories. The writer’s abrupt resignation with issue #15 took readers by surprise, and though successor Howard Weinstein proved adept at continuing the saga, readers wondered what might have been had David stayed with the series.
As it happens, the next storyline had already been scripted. Slated for issues #16 and 17, the humorous two-parter (titled “First Contact” and “The Long Good-Bye”) was fully written, and penciler Gordon Purcell had begun illustrating the first chapter. Arne Starr was slated to ink Purcell’s pencils, but the story was derailed and scrapped before much progress was made on the art end, culminating in David tendering his resignation.
Details regarding this “lost” tale were few and far between. The author made public his displeasure with the situation but kept things close to the vest other than soundbites in magazine interviews, while samples of Pucell’s unused artwork were featured in Comics Interview #110. Eventually, it came to light that Peter David had perceived hostility from Paramount consultant and archivist Richard Arnold. Arnold (who passed away in 2021) was responsible with vetting manuscripts and proposals for the licensed Star Trek comics, novels, and other products, a duty he carried out in Gene Roddenberry’s name until the latter’s death in 1991.
Due to Arnold’s arbitrary canonicity decrees (since reversed) and the strange restrictions he’d placed on licensees, several writers and editors became disenfranchised. David felt particularly targeted since he’d been forced to jettison original characters and abandon ongoing storylines. What’s more, Arnold was heavily critical of his scripts and forced a lot of changes on him. Suspecting the edits to be personally motived, David submitted a script under the name “Robert Bruce Banner” (the human identity of Marvel’s Hulk), which Arnold, unaware it was from David, approved with little fanfare. With his suspicions confirmed, the author walked away, and the story ended up in limbo.
It wasn’t truly lost, though, since David and Purcell retained the script and artwork in their files. Prior to Eaglemoss’s decision to end the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection with volume 140, that series had included, during my tenure as editor, a wide range of canceled, rejected, and otherwise unpublished stories as bonus content. Purcell graciously shared the unused art and scripts with me, and he and David each granted permission for us to include them in the next batch of STGNC editions so fans could experience what would have been.
Sadly, that batch of books was never produced, preventing readers yet again from reading the two-parter. That’s truly a shame, for it’s a fun story and strong on humor (the writer’s signature style, not only in his Star Trek work but also in his non-Trek comics). The premise offered gentle metafictional teasing of the franchise and its fans, and I have a feeling it would have been well-received had it seen the light of day, in the same vein as Star Trek parody/pastiches Galaxy Quest and The Orville.
As the story opens, the Enterprise discovers a space probe inviting first contact with Delta Organni IV. James Kirk leads a landing party to meet with the leader, and that’s where things get hilarious, as the masses obsess fanboyishly over the newcomers and hold a huge event to celebrate their existence. Yes, it’s an in-universe Star Trek convention, complete with collectibles, dealers, cosplayers, action figures, and artwork. The art even includes depictions of Jim Kirk and Spock as lovers, a winking nod at a segment of fanzine writers who have portrayed the characters in homoerotic and pornographic scenarios since the 1970s.
Things go awry when a vessel decloaks. Its captain, Vance Starslayer, demands the planet join the Starleen Confederacy, or die. Starslayer banks on the Prime Directive restricting Kirk from interfering with his invasion, but Jim ignores the rule and protects the Deltan Organnians (an odd naming juxtaposition of “Deltan” [Star Trek: The Motion Picture] and “Organian” [“Errand of Mercy”]). Vance nearly kills the captain in hand-to-hand combat, enabling the Enterprise crew to legally take action against the Starleen. In the end, Starslayer destroys his own ship rather than surrender.
Arnold’s justification for rejecting these clever scripts? They were “too funny”—which is a strange reason to refuse a story written by an author famed for his use of humor. Peter David had the last laugh, however, as he recycled the two-parter that same year for First Comics’ Dreadstar #63–64. There’s a certain irony there, for the Star Trek version of the story had been devised to honor Dreadstar, which David had been writing since 1989. The Starleen were named after Dreadstar creator Jim Starlin, while Vance Starslayer was a clear counterpart to that comic’s protagonist, Vanth Dreadstar, with each member of his crew having an analogue in Starslayer’s band of invaders. Instead of Star Trek doing a Dreadstar pastiche, the exact reverse ended up being the case.
There have been a ton of Star Trek parodies and pastiches throughout the years, but Dreadstar is unique due to its use of a story intended for actual licensed Trek comics. David exhumed his Trek scripts, utilizing much of the same dialogue but with alternations to make it compatible with Starlin’s mythos. Thus, if you’d like to read what would have happened in Star Trek #16–17, simply add Dreadstar #63–64 to your shelves. They’re remarkably similar to the Trek-based originals, beat for beat, but because of David’s difficulties with Arnold, his once-gentle ribbing of Star Trek takes on a more derisive tone in the Dreadstar telling.
The Confederacy is here renamed the United Franchise of Worlds. The villains look and behave like distorted versions of Kirk’s crew, and their names are especially telling. Kirk becomes Tibrus (recalling Jim’s middle name Tiberius), McCoy is Marrow (riffing on Bones), Scotty is Claymore (a Scottish sword), and Spock is Benjamyn (referencing author Benjamin Spock), while the others are Nyota (for Uhura), Hikaru (for Sulu), and Anton (for Chekov). The latter is bittersweet in retrospect, for while it originally referred to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, it’s impossible now to reread the Dreadstar story without being reminded of the tragic death of young Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the J.J. Abrams films).
In addition to the above, David proposed a time-travel arc featuring the Guardian of Forever (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), Zarabeth (“All Our Yesterdays”), and trips to ancient Vulcan and Earth. That saga, titled “Time and a Half for Overtime,” was earmarked for issues #18–24, according to Speakeasy Magazine #112, and working subtitles for #18 and 19 were “Hello I Must Be Going” and “Divine Inspiration.” Once again, however, Arnold nixed the concept, which failed to move past the proposal stage despite three rewrites.
The premise? As the author told Speakeasy, “Mr. Chekov, in what I consider a punchline to the entire character, will end up in the part of Earth that will eventually become Russia, and will get the opportunity to invent everything, thereby establishing once and for all that Russians really did. If I’m allowed to do it, which is looking shaky at the moment, it would also be the finale for the R.J. Blaise character.” Arnold, per David’s website, rejected this one because it wasn’t “simplistic enough” for Star Trek fans (ouch), though R.J. would get her proper sendoff in Star Trek Special #1.
David has been known to take potshots at Arnold in his Trek work, as discussed in a prior installment. He’d named a villain and planet Darrich and Landor, an anagram of Richard Arnold; described Darrich as “pig-headed,” “trying to renege on promises already made,” and “refusing to sign the agreement”; and noted that hard feelings had forced Blaise to “depart the area quickly,” recalling his own tumultuous departure from Star Trek. In another story, he’d included a graveyard headstone labeled “Arnold.” This harsh commentary on the consultant continues in Dreadstar #64.
Tibrus’s vessel is the Benedyct, referencing turncoat Benedict Arnold. The Franchise is 25 years old, Star Trek’s age in 1991, with members forced to “pay us your wealth and, in return, be treated like garbage.” Oooof. Tibrus and his crew transform into the evil Great Bird—Roddenberry’s nickname—after which another Franchise crew, drawn like Jean-Luc Picard’s cast, offers a benevolent, zero-conflict relationship befitting Star Trek: The Next Generation’s storytelling approach, which the characters deem “dull.”
The Picard analogue notes that Tibrus was forced to retire, a jab at Arnold’s then-recent Paramount firing, and there’s a cute commentary on the cartoon’s Lieutenant M’Ress briefly being deemed non-canon while Arnold was calling the shots.
There also seem to be several digs at William Shatner, as Tibrus’s title is Director 5, recalling the actor’s controversial directorial stint on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and his overly expressive mannerisms mirror Shatner’s acting style. In addition, the comic and the original Trek script both call back to Shatner’s “Get a life” joke from his 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch about science fiction conventions and obsessive Trekkies (which, by coincidence, has been in the news again). The metafictional Dreadstar tale is a gift that keeps on giving. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold?” It is very cold in spaaaaaaace.
This week’s column took an historical side-step away from the intended discussion, but we’ll get back on track next time with a trip to the Kelvin timeline in IDW’s ongoing comic based on J.J. Abrams’ films. Be here for an exciting adventure featuring Q, time travel, and the Deep Space Nine cast.
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.