Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #122

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.

122: Various Publishers, Part One

A staggering number of Star Trek comics have seen publication since 1967, with more than a thousand licensed comics released or announced to date. Yes, incredibly, Star Trek has passed the thousand-issue mark—and that’s not including fan-based unlicensed comics, unauthorized stories from international publishers, or the many licensed strips offered in the United States and abroad. Since its inception, this column has discussed nearly all of them.

Numerous other tales merit inclusion as well, even if they’re not actual Trek comics, per se. Such comics include Star Trek pastiches (for example, Peter David’s Dreadstar two-parter featuring distorted Enterprise crew analogues, discussed here, based on a rejected story he’d written for the DC Star Trek run), as well as tales otherwise connected to Star Trek lore without bearing the label. Let’s explore some non-Trek comics that matter to the franchise’s history. In keeping with this column’s focus, several have direct tie-ins to the episodes and films.

First up are a pair of issues that crossed over with Gold Key’s Star Trek line. The Gold Key tale—issue #22, scripted by Gerry Boudreau—wasn’t billed as a crossover, yet it was a sequel to two of the writer’s non-Trek tales from DC’s Star-Spangled War Stories: issues #170 (June 1973) and #180 (May–June 1974). The first story, “UFM,” introduced a world devastated by its own “ultimate fighting machine,” which Stacy Taylor, a technician aboard the starship Arcturus, encounters while battling Altarian forces. (That’s two Trek connections already: Arcturus and Altarians.)

The machine destroys Taylor’s vessel and hunts him down until he triggers a fusion reactor, sacrificing himself to abolish the techno-terror. The sequel, “Return,” picks up a year later, with a pocket of humanity who’d remained hidden beneath the planet’s surface until the UFM’s destruction. Survivors led by Kyr Nostrand and his lover Rhuna emerge to reclaim the surface, only to end up hunted by the UFM’s still-functioning Mind Module, which has molded nearby fauna and metals into a killing device. Rhuna and Kyr thus destroy the machine’s remnants, freeing their people.

The Star Trek connection is fascinating but easily overlooked, and it pertains directly to Kyr Nostrand and Rhuna. Boudreau, presumably without telling his editors, penned the third chapter for a different publisher—Gold Key, as it happens. This was a “stealth sequel,” a story not stated or advertised outright as connecting to another, yet intended to serve that purpose. You see, the writer featured both Rhuna and, in a flashback, Kyr in the pages of Star Trek. The Gold Key tale was actually the second chapter in the trilogy, not the third, as itwas released before War Stories #180, making that issue a prequel to Star Trek #22!

Through Rhuna, Gold Key’s Star Trek readers learned that a patrol vehicle had destroyed a deadly war machine with a nuclear bomb. Few fans were likely aware at the time that this had occurred in Star-Spangled War Stories, nor that the vehicle had been that of Stacy Taylor. In fact, Boudreau’s sneaky crossover went unnoticed for four decades until 2011, when writer Martin O’Hearn put two and two together at his “Who Created the Comic Books?” blog. As O’Hearn revealed, the Star Trek issue was most definitely referencing that DC story’s events.

When Star-Spangled War Stories #180 hit stands months later, it’s a sure bet readers likewise had no idea Rhuna and Nostrand had appeared in Star Trek—or that despite having survived his ordeal in DC’s tale, Kyr died soon thereafter in the Gold Key chapter. The story gives Rhuna’s underground home a name, Caeminon, and the Enterprise crewtravel there after being pulled through a black hole into the War Stories universe. Upon arrival, Kirk saves Rhuna from an attacking plant-monster, created by the very same Mind Module from issue #180. Pretty wild, eh?

Published later that year was Marvel Comics’ Worlds Unknown #4, which adapted Fredric Brown’s science-fiction story “Arena.” Debuting in the June 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, Brown’s prose tale served as the basis for the same-named episode of The Original Series, with the author receiving payment and story credit. The adaptation, reprinted by Marvel in 1976’s Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction one-shot, was penned by Gerry Conway, with art by John Buscema and Dick Giordano.

Since it mines Brown’s story and not the episode, the adaptation substantially differs from televised events. Star Trek’s Gorn captain had been based on an alien from the story called an Outsider, which Brown described as a small, tentacled red sphere, but which is drawn in the Marvel telling as a hulking red beast, because Marvel likes hulking red beasts. Kirk’s role is filled by scout pilot Bob Carson, and the Metron analogue is a voice in his head representing an ancient intelligence, the Entity, that forces the two to fight for their species’ continued existence, just as the Metron had done on TV.

Despite the similar setups, Brown’s original varies greatly from Star Trek’s “Arena,” with an invisible barrier separating the combatants, which Carson bypasses by knocking himself unconscious and falling into the other’s territory. What’s more, the Outsiders, unlike the Gorn (who were the episode’s victims, not villains, despite how Strange New Worlds has since recast them as vicious monsters), are unremittingly bloodthirsty. What’s more, they’re genocidally eliminated by the Entity, a vast contrast to the episode’s hopeful ending and Kirk’s merciful sparing of his adversary.

In 1980, DC published a Star Trek pastiche in issue #112 of Mystery in Space, titled “Insurrection,” written by Mike W. Barr and illustrated by Tom Sutton. The story features human explorers seeking out new worlds and civilizations, while offering military assistance to those in need (no pesky Prime Directive here, folks). Their ship more than slightly resembles a Klingon battlecruiser like the one featured the previous year in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the issue opens and closes with captain’s logs. It’s Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it.

The crew, meanwhile, are reminiscent of the Enterprise’s personnel, though they are fewer in number. Commander Gregory Karns of the Earthship Liberty is a brave hero who shares Kirk’s optimistic view of the future, and one of his officers is a clear homage to two Star Trek characters, Spock and Janice Rand (an amusingly random combination), as he’s called Mr. Rand and describes things as “logical” or “illogical.” There are other Star Trek parallels as well, including thematically, though he never urges his captain to look at his legs.

As is often the case with Star Trek, the story shows the folly of judging others based on appearances, when the crew helps the people of Renak battle their Reptoid adversaries. Karns assumes the Reptoids to be evil based on their dinosaur-like nature—shades, once more, of “Arena”—but they turn out to be the victims, for the Renak are cruel colonizers who have been slaughtering them in order to take their world. The ending is atypical of Star Trek, for the Renak kill the Liberty crew and succeed with their genocidal plan, which would never happen on TV. (Notice the trend here? Remove Gene Roddenberry from Star Trek, and you get mass murder.)

What’s especially interesting about “Insurrection” (besides the fact that it’s also the name of a Star Trek film, I mean) are its creator credits and the timing of its publication. The comic is dated October 1980, and writer Mike Barr had scripted issues of Marvel’s Star Trek comic only months earlier—and he would go on to write DC’s Trek line four years later, accompanied once again by Sutton on art chores. In many ways, the Mystery in Space story was the prototype for their celebrated collaboration.

Another pastiche was published in 2014 by Antarctic Press, which had previously distributed English translations of Atelier Lana’s Star Trekker manga in 1991. The publisher also created a plethora of Trek parodies of varying quality, which you can read about here. Antarctic has dipped into the Star Trek well many times, always in an unauthorized fashion, and its 2014 offering was Airship Enterprise. Written and illustrated by Brian Denham, the four-part storyline, subtitled “The Infernal Machine,” chronicles an alternate reality in which the Federation, its personnel, and its enemies all have steampunk-based counterparts.

Airship Enterprise’s titular vessel is commanded by Janus Tibbs (named for James Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius) and her second-in-command, Spaak (Spock), a pair of Skyfleet officers who battle aliens and sky pirates in the stratosphere above a doomed world. The story, originally published in Antarctic’s Steampunk Tales #1-3, was also collected in trade paperback format, as well as in a Kickstarter-funded Signature Edition hardcover offered with Star Trek T-shirts and other merchandise.

The story is lavishly illustrated, and for Star Trek fans it’s a treat, as it utilizes many common Trek tropes—a distress call from a fellow vessel, a bridge design styled after the classic TV Enterprise, red-clad security guards whose job it is to set off hidden traps before they can endanger the more important officers, and so on—all with a uniquely quirky steampunk flair.

Airship Enterprise is aimed at a steampunk audience, but even for non-fans of that genre, it’s fun to spot the parallels, such as communications officer Mason, who resembles Nyota Uhura, and Nurse Gallows, who is drawn like Christine Chapel. Alien crewmembers resemble a Gorn, an Andorian, and an Orion, and episode titles are incorporated into dialogue throughout, with not-so-subtle references to a “turnabout intruder,” “amok time,” a “wolf in the fold,” and more.

The villains continue this trend, with the airship encountering a steampunk Borg whose Locutus-like leader warns the Enterprise crew that resisting would be frivolous and painful (one might even say… futile). They also battle an “air kraken,” a reimagining of the Planet Killer from “The Doomsday Machine,” as well as a Klingon analogue called Major S’Kurge, referencing Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’s Kruge, who commands bird-of-prey biplanes. Very clever.

In part two of this non-Trek sidebar, next week’s column will examine more comics that aren’t Star Trek but merit discussion in this space. Specifically, we’ll look at spinoff comics based on the TV shows and movies that inspired Star Trek’s creation, as well as others the franchise inspired in turn. By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a tie-in!

Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:

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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