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.
110: IDW Publishing, 2014
Writer Mike Johnson has almost singlehandedly charted the comic book adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and company in the alternate universe created for J.J. Abrams’ film trilogy, and impressively so. Perhaps his most ambitious storyline appeared in issues #35–40 of his monthly title set in that reality.
Lavishly illustrated by Tony Shasteen, this six-parter chronicles a story that would make for a thrilling theatrical film. It involves not only the Kelvin reality’s Enterprise crew, but also the prime reality’s Jean-Luc Picard (in the miniseries’ bookends), an apocalyptic version of the Kelvin timeline’s future involving the Deep Space Nine cast, and John de Lancie’s beloved trickster Q. There’s a lot going on here, making “The Q Gambit” one of the most engaging tales to come out of IDW’s tenure.
The story opens with Q taunting Picard just for the heck of it, as Star Trek’s resident Loki analogue tends to do. He pops in just long enough to reveal Spock survived the 2009 film’s supernova, then leaves after dropping that bombshell on a taken-aback Jean-Luc. It’s classic Q, and when he later returns to the Enterprise-D with no explanation for having brightly glowing eyes, the captain’s deadpan, resigned reaction is pure Picard.
Q enters the Kelvin timeline and subjects the other Kirk to a real-life Kobayashi Maru test. As mentioned in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, then depicted in the 2009 film, Kirk doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios, but Q needs him to accept that such outcomes exist for the purpose of his elaborate plan to save the universe. To that end, he propels the Abramsverse Enterprise across the Alpha Quadrant and into a possible future series of events, in which Terok Nor is administered by Gul Dukat in the name of the Dominion, with mankind a conquered slave species.
It seems the Changelings took control of the quadrant after the Federation made its last stand at Wolf 359, the site of a deadly Borg-Starfleet battle in “The Best of Both Worlds,” and the Klingons are among the last governments to fall. Apparently, no matter what reality is involved, Starfleet vessels should avoid that planet entirely, as it never ends well for the Federation. Just ask eyepatch-clad Will Riker from DC Comics’ The Next Generation run, or perhaps Marvel’s X-Men.
The alternate Dukat has goals beyond subservience to the Changelings, and that’s the crux of the problem since he plans nothing less than ascension to the level of Pah-wraith. The Prophets’ archenemies debuted in “The Assignment,” and their presence on Deep Space Nine continued to be felt until the finale, “What You Leave Behind.” Now they’ve declared war on other omnipotent beings in the multiverse. They’ve destroyed all but one of the Prophets, and they seek to eliminate the Continuum as well, which shows how powerful they are. IDW would later chronicle another dispute between godlike entities in The Q Conflict, in which the Prophets proved to be more than a match for the Q.
A Bajoran tablet has entrapped a Pah-wraith and the sole surviving Prophet. While Dukat lets the former possess him (mirroring prime Dukat’s Deep Space Nine arc), the latter merges with Kira Nerys, then Ben Sisko, then Spock, and even Q himself—which provides a solution to the problem, as the Prophet-infused Q (hence, the glowing eyes) destroys the Pah-wraiths, restoring the cosmos’ balance.
While Ben’s possession recalls the revelation, in “Image in the Sand,” that his prime counterpart is half-Prophet, this Sisko seems fully human, for no mention is made of a Prophet soul residing within him. Indeed, there are no other Prophet souls, which leads to the unanswered question: How was Ben Sisko born in this timeline without his Prophet mother?
In this dark reality, Worf is the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire, with his brother Kurn (“Sins of the Father”) serving him faithfully in resisting the Dominion. At least, that’s how it initially seems, for he’s revealed to be a Changeling in disguise when Kurn murders Worf. This assassination subplot riffs on Gorkon’s death in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (not surprisingly, as many of Johnson’s stories reference that film), with Worf’s corpse even bleeding lavender blood.
Only Chris Pine’s Jim Kirk has the right mix of bravado, rugged handsomeness, and unwillingness to accept defeat that is necessary to stop Dukat and the Pah-wraiths from dominating all of existence. This caliber of “the universe in peril” storytelling is akin to what fans typically see on the large and small screens, and the comic ticks most of the boxes for big-budget Trek movies and landmark episodes. Time travel? Check. Alternate universes? Present. Big-name guest stars? Absolutely. Humanity being tested? Indeed. Impossible odds? Of course. Humor? It wouldn’t be Star Trek without it.
The story does create a minor continuity problem with the 2009 film, though Johnson offered a workaround after being readers called him on it. When Kirk’s crew arrives in the future, they meet the Cardassians, a species they do not recognize. However, Zoe Saldaña’s Nyota Uhura ordered a Cardassian sunrise onscreen during the Academy-era bar-brawl scene, which means first contact with the Union would have already occurred.
Johnson’s amusing explanation, published in the text pages of a later issue, is that the cocktail had been introduced to the Federation by a lone Cardassian smuggler who’d died before many had seen his face. As such, while the Federation knew of the drink when Uhura was a cadet, the Cardassians remained undiscovered. It’s a simple and elegant fix. The next time you watch the film, remember that while Starfleet personnel may enjoy the Cardassian beverage, they have no idea what its name means—kind of like how no one under age 40 would have any idea why a Shirley Temple bears that name.
Next week, it’s the prime Enterprise crew’s turn to meet beings from another reality—one inhabited by damn dirty apes. Be here, you bloody baboons, as we delve into the delightfully named Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive, from writers Scott and David Tipton and artist Rachael Stott. It’s a story of alien invasion and gorilla warfare, and it just might contain a cameo by a certain Star Trek comics columnist.
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.