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.
124: IDW Publishing, 2016–2017
When writer-artist John Byrne launched his New Visions line, beginning with 2013’s Strange New Worlds annual, he had found a fascinating new approach to Star Trek comics, which was actually an old approach. Byrne had modeled his photocomics— recombining images from various episodes to create brand-new storylines—after the popular Star Trek Fotonovels of the 1970s, which had presented a dozen episode adaptations in comic form using photo stills. Germany’s Gong magazine had done something similar in the 1970s and ‘80s. This week’s column examines the next six issues of New Visions. Because of the inherent limitations of Fotonovel-like comics (they primarily utilize vintage imagery, making it easier to bring back existing characters than to create new ones), the series contained many tie-ins to onscreen Star Trek.
This batch is no different in that regard, featuring both a prequel and a sequel to 1960s television episodes. Issue #12 is largely standalone. When a star is rapidly aged to the point of supernova, Jim Kirk’s crew tracks a massive swarm of living ships that feed on the debris. The only direct connection to existing episodes involves “The Changeling.” When the crew brings one of the vessels aboard the Enterprise for study, Scotty protests this decision, recalling what had happened when they’d brought the Nomad probe aboard—namely, the machine killed him. Thankfully, history doesn’t repeat itself here.
Around the same time, IDW offered a mail-order-exclusive New Visions one-shot called More of the Serpent Than the Dove, and it’s this issue that served as the episode sequel. The comic was produced as a joint venture between IDW and Humble Bundle, a company that creates games, e-books, software, and other content. The special, celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary, was not sold in stores initially, though it has since been reprinted in a New Visions trade paperback collection. The story was half the length of a typical New Visions tale, so the publisher supplemented it by including a chapter of Byrne’s Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor miniseries.
More of the Serpent Than the Dove is, as you might guess from the title, a sequel to “Arena,” and Byrne impressively manipulates images of the single Gorn from that episode to create new members of the species, each with their own distinctive look. The Federation and the Gorn Hegemony open peace talks, and the Enterprise ferries a Gorn ambassador to the conference. En route, the ship suddenly barrels toward collision with a star, thanks to a saboteur among the ambassador’s staff. Scotty and a Gorn engineer combine their expertise to find the sabotage device, and Scotty comes to regret his bigotry toward his counterpart, even sharing a drink with his new reptilian pal. (Keep in mind that this was published years before Strange New Worlds changed the Gorn into bloodthirsty monsters.)
In the 13th issue, the Enterprise discovers a craft containing an alien in a mask, from a culture of religious zealots looking to spread their faith throughout the galaxy. A landing party is imprisoned as heretics for going maskless, but a rebel faction frees them, after which Kirk convinces society to unmask. The story draws a connection to “The Return of the Archons,” for Leonard McCoy is skeptical about wearing native garb for first contact. Kirk compares the situation to their encounter with Landru—which he probably shouldn’t do, since that mission proved to be a disaster, just as this one does.
Rereading this tale in the wake of a deadly pandemic is a surreal experience. Those determined to wear masks are unreasonable, while those proclaiming the right to go around without them are heroes—which is the opposite of how things are in the real world. Plus, it’s the ultra-religious in the comic who demand mask-wearing. Seeing Kirk on the side of anti-maskers is disturbing, despite the story’s non-pandemic context. Plus, a strong case can be made that the captain violates the Prime Directive yet again.
Byrne provides a prequel to “Operation—Annihilate!” in issue #14, which guest-stars Jim’s brother, George “Sam” Kirk, in the months prior to his onscreen demise (looking nothing like his later depiction on Strange New Worlds, which is of course not Byrne’s fault in the slightest). When a treasonous Starfleet engineer covers up his own guilt by accusing Jim of spying for the Klingons, Sam confesses to a murder he didn’t commit in order to expose the true culprit, making him no less a hero than his famous brother. Sam grows a full beard and mustache during his investigation, hoping his wife Aurelan will let him keep the facial hair once he returns home—if not the beard, then at least the mustache. She apparently does so, given his corpse’s appearance in the episode.
The issue provides names for Peter Kirk’s brothers, mentioned in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” but absent in “Operation—Annihilate!” Here, the siblings are George and Gregory, which is just the latest names assigned to them. Other comics have called them Brett and Robbie (in DC’s Star Trek #74), Adam and Jason (in DC’s Star Trek Special #3), and Marcus and Virgil (in WildStorm’s Star Trek Special). Christie Golden’s novel The Last Roundup calls them Alexander and Julius, David Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk christens them Joshua and Steven, the video game Star Trek: Starship Creator dubs them Stephen and Thomas, and the game Star Trek: Away Team calls one of them Craig. What are their real names? It’s doubtful even they know. Aurelan and Sam must have gotten migraines trying to call their sons inside for dinner.
In addition to Sam, the story brings back other guest characters from The Original Series, such as Commodore José Mendez (“The Menagerie”), who summons Jim to Starbase 11 to ferry his brother back to Earth for trial. Mendez has been a frequent presence in the comics, likely because “The Menagerie” was such a standout tale, plus the fact that Malachi Throne was such an imposing presence, and Byrne does a great job of capturing t6he commodore’s forceful personality.
The comic depicts the first encounter between the Enterprise crew and Klingon warriors Koloth and Korax (“The Trouble with Tribbles” and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”). It was clear onscreen that Kirk and Koloth had a past, given their exchanges, and this story shows what that was. Having discovered the Organians are no longer enforcing the peace treaty imposed in “Errand of Mercy,” Koloth undertakes a mission into Federation space as a prelude to invasion, but the Kirk brothers thwart his plans. The story finds a great middle ground between Koloth’s comedic 1960s portrayal and his ruthless persona in Deep Space Nine’s “Blood Oath,” and it offers a glimpse at the Klingon mind-sifter/mind-ripper, as Korax subjects Sam to the deadly device.
A pastiche to the popular BBC program Doctor Who is presented in issue #15, with a guest character modeled after the Doctor. The Enterprise encounters a small craft that, much like the Doctor’s TARDIS, is bigger on the inside—in fact, its interior dimensions are larger even than those of Balok’s Fesarius (“The Corbomite Maneuver”). Its eccentric pilot, the Traveler (no relation), upgrades the engineering deck to prepare Kirk’s crew for an encounter with the robotic Q’al (an analogue to Doctor Who’s Daleks), but Kirk realizes his guest is really an ancient mass murderer, and that the Q’al are his victims.
In essence, the story is like a mirror-universe take on Doctor Who, with the time traveler portrayed as unremittingly evil and the Daleks cast as the good guys. The Q’al even yell “Terminate!”, a variation on the Daleks’ “Exterminate!” It’s a good fit for IDW, as the company had previously published an actual crossover between Star Trek and Doctor Who. The Traveler is portrayed by actor, singer, and teacher Richard Weidlich, who joins a long list of thespians cast in the role (well, sort of) of the mysterious Time Lord.
A backup story in issue #15 sees Nyota Uhura visiting her former shipmate Janice Rand, two years after the death of Rand’s husband in issue #2. Now a lieutenant, Janice has decided to return to the Enterprise, which she does in #16’s main story. Rand is reunited with another friend, Tonia Barrows, who’d dated McCoy in “Shore Leave” but has ended their relationship and now avoids sickbay. Much to Janice’s dismay, Kirk is off ship when she arrives—a fitting metaphor for their awkward history. Her side story throughout New Visions is poignant, so it’s a shame Byrne never wrote a solo Janice Rand title. (IDW, take note.)
The main story in issue #16 offers a clever take on the “time loop” trope prevalent in science fiction. Kirk becomes unstuck in time thanks to a temporal phase weapon. This causes him to jump around to various points before, during, and after an alien attack on the Enterprise, during which he revisits past missions, friends, and enemies, all the while working to change history by preventing the disaster from taking place.
Kirk’s temporal journey sees him encountering both Gary Mitchell (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and Sean Finnegan (“Shore Leave”) from his cadet days, as well as his ex-lover Janet Wallace (“The Deadly Years”) at the moment when she’d ended their romance. He briefly finds himself back at the start of the Enterprise’s mission to Pollux IV (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”), just as the vessel is approaching Apollo’s planet. The issue would have benefitted from a longer length, as that would have allowed Byrne to bring back numerous other guest characters as well, both living and deceased.
Finally, an amusing one-page story in issue #16 features a live-action Lieutenant M’Ress, from Star Trek: The Animated Series. The cartoon’s Lieutenant Arex had already been given live-action treatment in New Visions #11, and the Caitian finally joins him. Hikaru Sulu takes an immediate interest in her, a seeming callback to M’Ress and Sulu having been a couple during Peter David’s acclaimed Star Trek run at DC. Assuming it was intentional, it’s a rare case of a Trek publisher honoring the work of a predecessor company. Kudos to Byrne for remembering, and to IDW for allowing it.
New Visions #9–16 and More of the Serpent Than the Dove were collected in a signed and numbered hardcover omnibus titled The Hollow Man and Other Stories, which was distributed during the John Byrne/William Shatner Fan Experience at FanExpo Boston 2018 and FanExpo Canada 2018. This oversize book was offered in a limited edition of 500 copies. We’ll wrap up New Visions in just a few weeks. In the meantime, this column will continue dissecting IDW’s Star Trek: Boldly Go. Not only did the upcoming batch of issues reimagine a fan-favorite episode for the Kelvin timeline, but it also featured the return of Eurydice.
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.