Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #132

132: IDW Publishing, 2017–2018
My long-running column, which explores how Star Trek comics offer prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films, has been on hiatus since April 2022, when installment #131 was published. That extended and unscheduled break was due, unfortunately, to financial problems at Eaglemoss that have, as of this week, resulted in the company going into administration, the British equivalency of bankruptcy. I wish all the best to Eaglemoss’s staff, freelancers, and customers, as I know the situation has been difficult and frustrating for all involved.

The three years I worked on Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, first as an essayist starting with volume 10, then as the editor of volumes #72 to 140, were a blast, and I very much enjoyed writing this column as a supplement to those books for the company’s HeroCollector website. I’ll miss working with Terry Sambridge, Will Potter, Ross Jackson, Chris Thompson, and others along the way, and I hope all affected by the insolvency, including company director Ben Robinson, land steadily on their feet.

Once the hiatus began, I’d held out hope that Eaglemoss would bounce back, but that didn’t happen, so the show must go on. Herein, I shall post new installments of Star Trek Comics Weekly at this blog, though maybe not always on a weekly basis despite the title. Since its inception, my column had been designed to culminate in an Eaglemoss book that I have been writing simultaneously from day one. Alas, Eaglemoss will no longer be able to publish that book, so stay tuned for updates as I seek out a new home for my nearly completed manuscript.

For this first new chapter, let’s check out IDW’s earliest forays into the world of Star Trek: Discovery—the four-issue miniseries The Light of Kahless, as well as Discovery Annual 2018. The miniseries and annual were both cowritten by Kirsten Beyer, a popular Trek novelist and episode writer, and Mike Johnson, one of IDW’s more prolific scribes, who’d penned the vast array of Kelvin timeline tales. Both titles were edited by Sarah Gaydos and Chase Marotz.

The Light of Kahless featured interior art from Tony Shasteen, with covers by Shasteen, J.K. Woodward, Declan Shalvey, Aaron Harvey, George Caltsoudas, and Angel Hernández, while the annual sported covers and interior illustrations by Hernández and Caltsoudas. This past year, Johnson, Shalvey, and Hernández all took part in IDW’s Star Trek 400th Issue one-shot, a project conceived by yours truly and edited by Heather Antos. I contributed a nostalgic introduction to that issue, due out in the fall, and it was a thrill and an honor to be in such talented company.

T’Kuvma

With both Discovery titles, Beyer and Johnson provided backstories for some of the then-new characters being introduced on television. The Light of Kahless, befitting the title, is a Klingon-centric tale built around the early life of T’Kuvma, the zealous warrior featured in Discovery‘s opening episodes, “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars.” A framing story shows Torchbearer Voq grappling with self-doubt over having to lead his people following T’Kuvma’s death, but L’Rell reassures her friend by recounting how their beloved savior overcame his own personal crisis of faith.

The Light of Kahless gives T’Kuvma a family—a treacherous sister, J’Ula, as well as brothers and an uncle—who live in dishonor and poverty due to the fall of the House of Girjah. T’Kuvma (a scrawny, bullied child in the years before he’d become the powerful warrior depictured on television) and his clan reclaim their derelict ancestral Ship of the Dead, the Sarcophagus, which they rebuild in the hope of restoring their lost honor. Video game fans may recall that a temporally displaced J’Ula showed up in the Star Trek Online adventures Age of Discovery and House Divided.

Voq and L’Rell

While T’Kuvma spends years studying Kahless’s teachings at the Boreth monastery, however, J’Ula betrays Girjah by helping a rival House murder her remaining family. Severing all ties with his sister, T’Kuvma sets out with the Sarcophagus crew to find the fabled Beacon of Kahless, with which to unite the Empire’s fractured Houses. The comic thus lays the groundwork (with a twist, discussed below) for the zealot’s bloody crusade and the Federation-Klingon War that resulted, creating a far more nuanced T’Kuvma than was afforded on television.

As part of her betrayal, J’Ula accepts an arranged marriage with the bloodthirsty House of Mo’Kai, though some panels call it the House of Sanar, likely a vestigial holdover from an editorial name-change. The House of Mo’Kai was mentioned in Star Trek: Voyager‘s “The Killing Game,” during a holoprogram featuring Katherine Janeway as a Klingon, and would play a role in Discovery‘s early seasons. “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” in fact, would establish L’Rell’s mother as being from Mo’Kai, making L’Rell and T’Kuvma related by marriage.

The monastery on Boreth

In crafting this Discovery prequel, Johnson and Beyer delved deeply into Klingon lore. Young T’Kuvma, for instance, meditates among the lava beds of No’Mat. Mentioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Birthright,” No’Mat is here depicted as a series of inhospitable caves on Boreth, though in other licensed sources the term has signified a planetary name and, alternatively, a mountainous region of Qo’noS.

As for Boreth, that sacred world was introduced in The Next Generation‘s “Rightful Heir” as a place of worship for followers of Kahless the Unforgettable, and it would also feature in Discovery episodes “Point of Light” and “Through the Valley of Shadows.” According to “Rightful Heir,” the Klingons believe Kahless will someday be reborn, and in this comic many on Boreth view T’Kuvma as the reincarnated Kahless due to visions of light he experiences at the monastery.

Kahless reborn

The writers incorporate elements of Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath,” which hinted at a Klingon prejudice toward pale skin by calling the adversary of Kor, Kang, and Koloth simply “the Albino,” as though he didn’t deserve a name. The comic confirms this to be the case, for after giving birth to a non-pigmented child, J’Ula murders the infant and claims it was stillborn rather than facing the shame of adding an albino to her bloodline. T’Kuvma, on the other hand, rejects such bigotry and welcomes numerous albinos, Voq among them, into his newly established House of T’Kuvma.

In addition, the miniseries reveals the story behind the Sarcophagus, introduced in “Battle of the Binary Stars.” The Ship of the Dead is said to have fallen into disrepair, and after having it restored, T’Kuvma orders it adorned with the hand-carved sarcophagi of not only his ancestors but those of his followers, honoring the downtrodden who’d helped him by restoring their lost glory along with his own. This explains the vessel’s unusual design on the show, while also justifying the reverent loyalty T’Kuvma inspires.

The Sarcophagus

The miniseries concludes with an unexpected revelation: the Beacon of Kahless, with which T’Kuvma united the 24 Klingon Houses in “Battle at the Binary Stars,” was a fake! It seems that after years of searching, the zealot failed to find the mythical relic, and so a follower built a new beacon to help T’Kuvma fulfill his mission. And rather than stick to his principles, T’Kuvma allowed the lie to further his cause.

Voq is understandably shocked to learn that his hero had misled his loyalists in their campaign to make America Klingons great again, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with recent U.S. history. Like real-world cult leaders, T’Kuvma is a fraud who manipulates the desperate and easily led with nationalistic slogans, racist xenophobia, and promises of prosperity built on lies. He might as well be named T’Rump… though he speaks intelligently, could win a fight, and is actually religious, so perhaps the comparison isn’t entirely fair.

The Beacon of Kahless

Whereas The Light of Kahless expanded on Discovery‘s Klingon characters, the annual focused on those inhabiting Starfleet’s side of the border. In this one-shot, Paul Stamets and research partner Straal explore a unique fungus, Prototaxites stellaviatori, which leads them to discover the mycelial network that would power the USS Discovery‘s spore drive. Federation experts initially dismiss the notion of instantaneous starship travel, until the duo successfully create such a drive, revolutionizing propulsion.

The two scientists carry out their work at Deneva Station. The planet Deneva debuted in The Original Series‘ “Operation—Annihilate!” as the home of Sam Kirk (now featured on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which no fan could have foreseen), while the station was introduced in Star Trek: Enterprise‘s “Horizon.” As for Straal, the mycologist and terraformer played a role in Discovery‘s “Context Is for Kings” and “The War Without, The War Within.” The comic explores their friendship and occasional clashing of views, gives Straal a first name (Justin) and a wife (Amelia), and makes the man’s onscreen demise aboard the USS Glenn more poignant.

Paul Stamets and his ill-fated friend Justin Straal

Other episode tie-ins appear throughout the annual, including scenes set on Alpha Centauri, the home of Zefram Cochrane (The Original Series‘ “Metamorphosis”). Additionally, upon testing his new spore drive, Stamets considers how Emory Erickson (Enterprise‘s “Daedalus”) must have felt while using the transporter he’d invented—a great comparison that serves to bridge The Original Series‘ two prequel shows through the lens of innovation.

The writers also showcase Hugh Culber’s love for Kasseelian opera, which, according to “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” Stamets had insulted when the two had first met. That event is depicted in the comic, though Paul warms up to the music by story’s end as their relationship evolves from long-distance friendship to budding flirtation to romance aboard the USS Discovery. The couple’s relationship, very believably written, is among the annual’s most charming aspects.

Stamets and Hugh Culber: a love forged in musical discord

IDW’s Discovery comics proved to be an excellent addition to the publisher’s lineup, capturing well the show’s characters and atmosphere. The next installment will look back at another Discovery adventure from Beyer, Johnson, and Hernández: the four-part storyline Succession. That miniseries revealed an untold chapter of the mirror universe, so hail the Empire and trim your goatee, because this column is once again crossing the dimensional barrier.

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