Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #115

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.

115: IDW Publishing, 2015–2016

Starfleet Academy is a fascinating aspect of Star Trek. As a training facility for Starfleet personnel, it has had an enormous impact on the franchise, even though its onscreen appearances have been relatively few, since almost every major Trek character has attended the institution. The Next Generation’s “Coming of Age” centered around Wesley Crusher’s application to the Academy, while Deep Space Nine’s “Heart of Stone” did the same for Ferengi teen Nog. The Next Generation’s “First Duty,” meanwhile, saw the Academy take center-stage as Wes encountered troubles with his squad, and Discovery’s “All Is Possible” saw Sylvia Tilly accepting a teaching position there.

Following the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Harve Bennett and David Loughery had planned to film Star Trek: The First Adventure, featuring the Academy exploits of James T. Kirk, Spock, Leonard McCoy, Christine Chapel, and Montgomery Scott. The script was completed and the film was nearly made, with (as crazy as this sounds) Ethan Hawke and John Cussack portraying Kirk and Spock, respectively. The movie was slated for a 1991 release, but the project was shelved after Gene Roddenberry and classic cast members protested the idea of a film without their involvement. Years later, the 2009movie partially took place at the Academy, with Kirk and his classmates taking the Kobayashi Maru test.

On the licensed front, DC Comics featured Kirk’s Academy days in one of its Star Trek Annuals, as well as in issues #73–75, while Marvel Comics launched an ongoing Starfleet Academy series built around the exploits of Nog and his classmates. The novels have showcased the Academy careers of several characters, notably Julia Ecklar’s The Kobayashi Maru, as well as twenty Starfleet Academy books based on characters from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. And most recently, IDW launched the 24th-century comic Picard’s Academy.

With an Academy-based television series soon coming our way, it’s appropriate that this column has reached IDW’s Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, a five-issue miniseries set in the Kelvin timeline of J.J. Abrams’ film trilogy. This take on Starfleet’s learning institution was penned by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott, with interior artwork by Derek Charm, and the first issue was previewed as a small ashcan edition distributed at New York Comic Con 2015.

The miniseries’ premise is simple yet engaging, and it takes place at three points in time: a hundred years before Nyota Uhura’s Academy days, during her enrollment at the school, and sometime after her graduation. In the first, the USS Slayton is caught in a temporal anomaly, causing the crew to mutiny. In the second, Uhura picks up a distress call from the lost starship and vows to unravel the mystery. Since the files are classified, she elicits help from Pavel Chekov and Kirk in bypassing security protocols. And in the third, new cadets T’Laan (Vulcan), Shev Akria (Andorian), Vel K’Bentayr (Monchezkin), and Grace Chen and Lucia Gonzales (humans) take part in a competition with other academies.

K’Bentayr is presumably related to USS Kelvin bridge officer Alnschloss K’Bentayr, a Monchezkin featured in the 2009 movie, and the miniseries provides background information about their species. They rarely communicate vocally since they’re a hive-mind, resulting in a tendency to narrate feelings and actions aloud rather than speaking abstractly. As such, Vel provides the story’s humor by innocently stating the obvious at any given moment. If he were reading this column, for example, he might say “I am reading this column. Rich is being silly for comedic effect. It isn’t very funny.”

Admiral Alexander Marcus (Star Trek Into Darkness) catches Uhura breaching the archives and nearly expels her for it. Apparently, the files had been classified because the lead mutineer had been the son of the school’s revered founder, and Starfleet had decided that acknowledging the mutiny would scar the institution’s integrity. This tendency toward clandestine operations foreshadows the admiral’s onscreen treason, and it aligns with the disturbing number of times we’ve seen Starfleet admirals (“badmirals,” as fans have dubbed them) and captains engaged in questionable activities they keep from the masses.

In a rare tie-in to Star Trek: Enterprise, the Kelvin timeline’s Jonathan Archer is said to have encountered the pirate Krem (“Acquisition”), who apparently attacked the NX-01 without his species being identified, just as his prime counterpart had in the episode. The cadets learn about this incident at the Academy a century later, including speculation about who Krem’s people might have been, since first contact with the Ferengi has not yet occurred, consistent with The Next Generation’s “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Meanwhile, in a nod to The Animated Series, readers get a glimpse at the Kelvin timeline’s Kzinti (“The Slaver Weapon”), Phylosians (“The Infinite Vulcan”), and Skorr (“The Jihad”), as cadets from those species attend the Academy, beating Star Trek: Lower Decks to the punch in putting a Kzinti in Starfleet. Caitians can be spotted as well, matching M’Ress and those featured in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home rather than Kirk’s human-looking ménage à trois lovers in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Other aliens include Rigelians (Enterprise’s “Affliction”), Denobulans (Enterprise), Coridanites (Enterprise’s “Demons”), Arcturians (Star Trek: The Motion Picture), Lurians (Morn’s species on Deep Space Nine), Arkenites (The Voyage Home), Bolians, Benzites, Saurians, Tellarites, and more. Oh, and Gaila, Uhura’s Orion roommate from Abrams’ first movie, does a sexy dance, which would probably piss off D’Vana Tendi. Crowd scenes at the Academy are like a game of Where’s Alien Waldo?—a noticeable contrast to the human-centric Academy typically featured on the TV shows.

Perhaps the Starfleet Academy TV series will follow in IDW’s footsteps with a well-integrated population. After all, the Academy isn’t an Earth university, despite being located on Earth—it’s a Starfleet school, its students hailing from many worlds. In that regard, IDW’s Starfleet Academy is a great example of a Kelvin timeline story one-upping the prime universe, and next week’s column will remain in that alternate reality for Star Trek: Manifest Destiny. Or, as a Monchezkin might say, “Rich is ending the column now with a clever callback. This is the final sentence. Actually, this one is. No, wait, there’s more text below for those looking for more information about Star Trek comics. Check out those resources.”

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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.

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