The relationship between Star Trek and comic books goes back almost to the beginning of the franchise. The first Trek comics were published by Gold Key from 1967-1978. These books, often featuring photographic covers taken from The Original Series, are highly collectable and still prized by Trekkers. But that is an article for another time…
Today, we combine Star Trek with Marvel Comics, a team up that would break fandom if it happened on the big screen today (why, yes, we do want to see Rocket Raccoon on the bridge of the Enterprise, thank you very much). In 1979, the House of Ideas and the House That Roddenberry Built crashed together in an 18-issue series that is, truly, as Spock would say, fascinating. This Marvel series holds a special place in Star Trek history because it came out on the heels of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was the first crack Marvel Comics got at producing new tales based on the famed sci-fi franchise.
In the halcyon days of 1979, a big part of Marvel’s business model was licensed series. Star Wars saved Marvel from bankruptcy, Planet of the Apes was a pretty big deal when it came out, Godzilla stomped around the Marvel Universe for a number of years, and Logan’s Run and Battlestar Galactica spent time at Marvel as well. But, with Star Trek, Marvel had the granddaddy of all sci-fi licenses.
Marvel started its run at a bit of a disadvantage as it didn’t have the rights to use any concepts from The Original Series. So Marvel was beholden only to The Motion Picture and any original ideas the talented creators of Marvel dreamt up. Also, this series we are about to warp into took place on the Enterprise’s second five year mission, a period of time that the stillborn Star Trek: Phase II TV series was supposed to take place in.
Well, TV fans never witnessed this second five year mission but comic fans did, so set a course with me my fellow Trek junkies as slingshot around the sun and warp to 1979-1981 in order to break down Marvel’s first foray into the Star Trek Universe…
Star Trek #1-3
Writer: Marv Wolfman; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; Consulting Editors: Jim Shooter and Richard Marschall
I would like to say that Marvel started its Star Trek run with a bang, but, alas, Marvel started out its Star Trek run with a three issue adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Marvel’s Star Trek #1-3 reprinted the oversized Marvel Super Special #15, an adaptation of the first Trek film. Now, long time Trek fans will tell you that The Motion Picture is not the most action-packed Trek adventure. While it is maligned unfairly today (there are some truly wonderful scenes buried within the 46 hour run time), even the biggest fan of The Motion Picture will admit that it’s not exactly Warp 1-engaged. Right away, the first three issues of the comic have an ironic disadvantage because emblazoned on the is the title Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Well, guys, it’s not a motion picture — it’s a comic. So, yeah.
Despite all this, there is some serious talent aboard this book. First, we have the legendary writer of DC’s New Teen Titans and the creator of Blade, Marv Wolfman. On art, we have the immortal Dave Cockrum — he who designed and created Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and a crapton of the Legion of Super-Heroes — and we have Klaus Janson, inker of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Those three names alone make this film adaptation worth checking out.
At least the comic looks classy and is paced by a true master of the medium in Wolfman. And, believe me, for these comics not to clock in at 700 pages took a true master of sequential storytelling. For real, erosion occurs faster than the second act of this film, but Wolfman kept everything moving nicely. Issue #1 in Marvel’s run is uninspiringly entitled “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (again guys, it’s a comic — it doesn’t move unless you throw it across the room).
The second issue is entitled “V’Ger,” and the third, “Evolutions.” The first issue sports a cover featuring gorgeous head shots of Kirk and Spock with good old bald Ilia and her ill-fated beau, Decker, on the cover. In truth, Wolfman does a great job introducing a ton of characters and concepts into the first issue. He has to deal with Spock, Kirk and McCoy returning to the Enterprise, the re-introduction of the Enterprise’s classic crew, and the introduction to newcomers Ilia and Decker. The art is downright gorgeous, with Cockrum proving that he was born to draw space sagas.
Sadly, there is little by way of oddball aliens in the first Trek film, so Cockrum doesn’t get to flex those muscles like he did on his classic run on Legion of Super-Heroes. Issue one ends with Spock boarding the Enterprise, not exactly the most riveting cliffhanger. The second issue deals with the Enterprise’s contact with V’ger and the possession and death of poor Ilia.
Cockrum is at his best here as he renders the Enterprise’s voyage inside the wormhole with images bursting with unique imaginative energy. There is one splash of the Enterprise entering the wormhole that is right out of an issue of Doctor Strange —all angles and fractals and awesome.
Wolfman also juggles the six million plot threads of the film as we continue into the third and final issue of the adaptation. The third issue’s cover sports a blurb that reads, “The deadly V’Ger is about to destroy the Earth… and only the Enterprise stands in its way.” The cover also gifts fans with a stunning image of the Enterprise bursting off the cover. Good stuff.
The adaptation probably could have used a fourth issue as things get plenty rushed in part three. Cockrum brings his A game once again, but poor Wolfman has to stuff all the of the film’s bloated plot into just over twenty pages. To Wolfman’s credit, the writer does manage to never lose the humanity of Kirk and Bones during the V’Ger adventure, but, sadly, Spock’s arc of embracing his humanity is kind of an afterthought.
But who the heck can fit the entirety of the space whale that is Star Trek: The Motion Picture into three issues of a comic? Wolfman sure tried and it’s kind of fun experiencing a Readers’ Digest version of the first Trek film. Without all the wistful staring out of windows, the V’Ger story is kind of one sitting digestible. Man, I would have loved to see Wolfman and Cockrum tackle Wrath of Khan but, alas, Marvel lost the Trek license before the second film came out.
Star Trek #4
“The Haunting of Thallus”
Writer and Editor: Marv Wolfman; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; Consulting Editor: Jim Shooter
With issue four of Marvel’s Trek series, we enter the era of original material. Wolfman, Cockrum, and Janson are still the creative team, with Wolfman taking the position of full editor and Shooter relegated to consulting editor (whatever the heck that means). So, it looks like, at this point, Star Trek was Wolfman’s baby as he guides the Enterprise into that fabled second five-year mission…
The cover of the fourth issue has Kirk and a generic Starfleet officer firing at a giant skeleton with red eyes and a red hood. Spock is tapping Kirk on the shoulder as a bug eyed monstrosity approaches form the rear. It’s interesting that Marvel took a humorous approach to the first of the Enterprise’s new adventures. The splash page features the Enterprise flying towards a floating space haunted house complete with a wrought iron gate and cat and bat space ghosties. Do you really need a fence in space?
Anyway, this issue is pretty freakin’ insane so strap in: Kirk and his crew must deliver a red, eyeless alien named Raytag M’Gora back to Thallus, the prison M’Gora escape from. M’Gora is stark raving mad and begs Kirk not to take him back to Thallus, warning the captain that, if he approaches Thallus, his entire crew will become prisoners of the evil place. Kirk heads to Thallus and encounters that nutso space haunted house that we mentioned.
So this is where things really get insane. Kirk, Spock, Bones and some red shirts (including an Andorian), beam to the haunted house and encounter…Dracula! And not just any Dracula, the crew of the Enterprise do battle with a Dracula that looks exactly like Marvel’s vampire lord from Tomb of Dracula. And who wrote Tomb of Dracula? Why that would be Marv Wolfman, of course. So I guess we have sort of unofficial Star Trek/Marvel crossover here.
But, oh, the goodness doesn’t end there as, after the Dracula encounter, Kirk and company come face to face with Marvel’s version of the Frankenstein Monster. After that, a bunch more monsters appear and one of them looks exactly like Man-Thing. The hell? So, if you ever wanted to see Marvel’s Legion of Monsters against the crew of the Enterprise, here you go. The whole thing ends with Klingons taking Kirk, Spock, and the rest hostage. Wow, so after the slow moving, meditative Star Trek: The Motion Picture, you have the Enterprise versus Dracula.
God, I love the Bronze Age.
Star Trek #5
“The Haunting of the Enterprise”
Writers: Denny O’Neil and Mike W. Barr; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; Editors: Louise Jones and Denny O’Neil
Hell yeah, that’s a Frank Miller cover featuring Dr. McCoy shooting a buxom blond. The heck is going on here? Let’s find out in this tale of a haunted Enterprise… Marv Wolfman steps off the Enterprise for this adventure and concluding his haunted sci-fi tale is the great Denny O’Neil and Mike W. Barr. The two writers have a tall order as they most explain how the heck there is a haunted house in space and also suss out how the heck Dracula attacked the Enterprise.
Sadly, there is no Dracula, Frankenstein, or Man-Thing in this issue, but O’Neil and Barr provide a satisfying if convoluted reason for all the space ghoulies and ghosties: You see, the Klingons invented a machine that sucks out dream images from a victim and makes them a reality. The Klingons kidnap a horror film archivists (and it’s kind of cool that this exists in the 23rd century) and strap him into the machine. From his Lugosi/Karloff/Romero-loving brain, those classic horror legends arose. And I guess he was a big Bronze Age Marvel Comics fan.
Kirk and McCoy free themselves from the house, while Spock is taken prisoner by the Klingons. Meanwhile, that mysterious buxom woman from the cover is rescued and taken to safety aboard the Enterprise. Spock quickly discovers the truth about the machine and realizes that the woman is a construct of the horror archivist’s dead wife. Spock mind melds with the poor guy in the machine and sends his own image to the Enterprise, instructing his crew to destroy the woman. McCoy obliges and the threat is over.
So, basically, McCoy just shoots an innocent woman on ghost Spock’s say so. Now that’s trust. And the haunted house? It was a converted space station to help the Klingons sell the illusion. You have to give it to the Klingons, they committed to this plan. Anyway, the explanation was rather clever if a bit overly complex, but I really dug how Spock saved the day — even if I wish more Marvel monsters showed up. I guess that was the price for Wolfman’s exit. But, there were some cleverly designed space beasties in this issue as Cockrum really got to go to town.
Star Trek #6
“The Enterprise Murder Case!”
Writer: Mike W. Barr; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; Editor: Louise Jones
Louise Jones came aboard as co-editor last issue with Denny O’Neil, but with issue number six, Jones has the solo editorial reins of Marvel’s Trek. Hmm… three editors in three months, things seem a little chaotic behind the scenes in Marvel’s 23rd century. But the writer and artist have stayed consistent from last issue, so let’s dive in.
The cover features a gaudily-dressed, purple-skinned alien with quite an impressive mustache and purple tail. In one image, the ‘stache is standing there in his jaunty clothes and thigh high boots, and in the next, he has a knife in his back. So we’re in for a sci-fi murder mystery, then.
The story revolves around the planet Yannid IV, an embattled world that has finally agreed to join the Federation — until its ambassador is murdered while he is being beamed onto the Enterprise. Spock delights in a chance to solve such a mystery.
This tale also is a rare opportunity to look into Kirk’s past, as it was revealed that during his first deep space mission, during a rebel attack, a young James T. Kirk accidently shot the very ambassador who was murdered on the Enterprise years later. A complex story of alien politics and betrayal follows as Barr delivers a winner.
This issue is classic Trek as things get personal for the crew. Barr finally finds some story space for Sulu and Chekov, even if it is just Chekov reminding everyone that he’s Russian while Sulu fences with a few aggressive Yannid IV residents. I guess Barr wants people to believe that Sulu takes his fencing sword everywhere. You know, that’s okay with me. The aliens of Yannid IV all kind of look like Rip Taylor and I’m kind of okay with that, as well.
Star Trek #7
“Tomorrow or Yesterday”
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Artists: Mike Nassar and Klaus Janson; Editor: Louise Jones
Sadly, this issue does not feature Cockrum art. Instead, we are treated to the art of Mike Nassar, an artist who may have had a great deal of influence on Frank Miller.
DeFalco is best known for his super hero work, but, honestly, he pens a heck of a classic Trek tale in this here comic. Kirk and his crew are trying to evacuate a primitive people out of the Andrea system before a radioactive Vega cloud engulfs the sector, killing all life. When Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to the planet with two no-name ensigns in tow (the ensigns actually survive — shock of shocks), the crew of the Enterprise is flabbergasted to find millennia-old statues of James, T., the Vulcan, and everyone’s favorite country doctor.
It turns out the Andreans can evolve into life forms that experience all time at once, so, to this odd race, tomorrow and yesterday happen simultaneously. The Andreans of tens of thousands of years ago knew that the crew of the Enterprise would be their saviors and erected statues to honor the deed. That’s a pretty heady concept that DeFalco comes up with and certainly raises the stakes from a space haunted house as far as hard sci-fi is concerned.
The Andreans themselves are some strange-looking aliens as Nassar goes to town, creating a race with a truly extraterrestrial anatomy and appearance. This is the type of race that can only be pulled off in comics as a TV effects budget would never allow for such an anatomically impossible group of aliens. This issue is probably the most pure Trek of the Marvel run so far and is well worth checking out for a true Rodenberry like experience.
Star Trek #8
“The Expansionist Syndrome”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Ricardo Villamonte; Editor: Louise Jones
Speaking of odd-looking aliens, issue number eight of Marvel’s Trek sports a classic Cockrum cover with some really cool-looking floating bug aliens disassembling a yellow Uniformed Mister Spock. For real, these aliens are right out of Cockrum’s X-Men run and would be right at home fighting the Starjammers. This issue also sees the arrival of famed Superman scribe (among so much more) Martin Pasko. Pasko has written about every great character in comics, but this was his first crack at Trek, so let’s see how he does.
A few characters that usually aren’t in the spotlight get a chance to shine in this issue. First off, we have Doctor Chapel who plays a pivotal role in this issue and even provides some first person narration through her medical logs. That’s a first for old Chapel. Secondly, the Marvel Trek run has consistently featured a female navigator named Chief DiFalco. Fans of Trek minutia will remember that DiFalco took over for Ilia after the bald woman’s death at the hands of V’ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. DiFalco was played by William Shatner’s then wife Marcy Lafferty and it’s kind of cool that Marvel kept the character around as a kind of throwback to the first Trek film.
Anyway, this issue features a civil war between two alien races: the blue-skinned Org and the insectoid Mox. After the Mox abduct Spock, the crew of the Enterprise beam down to rescue their crewmate. Meanwhile, Dr. McCoy is endeavoring to save the life of Lenore Fowler, a woman who desperately needs a heart transplant. When McCoy joins the Spock rescue party, it’s up to Chapel to keep Fowler alive.
Pasko has some surprises in store for readers as the Mox and the Org are both connected to the famed Eugenics War of the late 20th century. He also skillfully combines the conflict of the two races with Fowler’s medical drama while delivering a pretty action packed Trek adventure. There was more physical action in this issue than any other so far and it was also nice to see the story connect back to Trek lore. It was a bit paint by numbers, but Pasko plate spins many plot threads to come up with an exciting adventure while Cockrum is his usual awesome self, particularly with the design of the Mox.
Star Trek #9
“Experiment in Vengeance”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Dave Cockrum and Frank Springer; Editor: Louise Jones
I’ve been singing the praises of Cockrum all over this Marvel Trek comic recap, but, man, the cover of issue nine is not so good. It features a male Starfleet officer that I think is supposed to be Kirk? And a generic female officer floating in space surrounded by angry-looking bald heads. It’s supposed to be all dramatic and stuff, but it is rendered in a way that makes it look like some dude and some chick are standing on the Enterprise while being leered at by floating baldies. Oh well, they can’t all be winners.
The most memorable thing about this issue is that it portrays Kirk’s romantic skills as…ummmm…second to none. Lemme explain: This issue introduces zoologist Karen Hester-Jones as she reports for duty abord the Enterprise. Pasko makes it very clear that Kirk and Hester were once an item and, when the two find themselves alone together, the space soap opera begins.
The formerly married Hester tells Kirk, “You’ll never know how many times I’ve bitten my tongue in middle of the night to keep from crying out your name instead of his!” Wow! Space machismo, thy name is James T. Anyway, this drama follows Kirk throughout the mission. I was kind of distracted by that racy bit of Trek business, but the rest of the book dealt with a wave of insanity that overtook the Enterprise.
Lieutenant Uhura is the biggest name that goes crazy and sadly, going nuts in this issue is really the only blessed thing Uhura does in the entire series. Think about it, at this time in comic book history, how many Marvel books featured a woman of color as a regular character? There was Misty Knight and that’s about it. So it would have been nice to see Uhura get some meaty roles in Trek, but alas, it was not to be.
Speaking of meaty, Kirk and Hester continue their star-crossed romance until it was revealed that the insanity wave is somehow connected to Hester’s grandmother and a mission she went on years earlier. The entire insanity wave and the floaty baldie heads are all explained in a giant exposition dump and Kirk and Hester agree to go their separate ways.
But the takeaway here is: once you go Kirk, you can’t go back. You’ll be screaming his name during sex for the rest of your natural life.
Star Trek #10
“Domain of the Dragon God”
Writer: Michael Fleisher; Artists: Leo Duranona and Klaus Janson Editor: Louise Jones; Back up Feature: “From the Files of Starfleet Command Headquarters” Artist: Dave Cockrum
Here we are in the double digits. The awesome Frank Miller cover features Spock holding a spear and bringing the pain to a bunch of muscular aliens as the cover proclaims “Spock the Barbarian.” I guess Conan was doing some nice bank for Marvel back in 1981, so why not?
Sadly, Spock and the Enterprise do not go up against Thulsa Doom in this issue nor does Kirk try to bed down with Red Sonja. But, we do get an exciting away mission from Michael Fleisher, a writer whose Spectre tales for DC have become the stuff of legend. Joining Fleisher, is artist Leo Duranona. Sadly, Duranona’s figures are very stiff and has background very sparse making this Trek adventure appear somewhat unfinished, but, if you read it, you get to see Dr. McCoy shatter the Prime Directive into a billion pieces.
How, you may ask? Well, Spock and McCoy take a shuttlecraft down to the primitive planet Barak-7 for a survey mission. Almost as soon as they arrive, Bones and Spock spy a woman being sacrificed by Barak-7’s primitive natives to their dragon god. McCoy intervenes and Spock is taken captive by the tribe. McCoy escapes and is taken by the woman to her tribe.
McCoy and his new pals prepare a rescue mission to free Spock and McCoy shows them how to use a bow and arrow because prime directive shrime directive. McCoy’s crew indeed free Spock and slay the chieftain of the rival tribe. All of a sudden, McCoy’s chief friend starts sacrificing women to the dragon god in thanks for his new weapons and victory. Captain Kirk meanwhile flies a shuttle to the surface and saves Spock and McCoy and just kind of lets everything remain the way it is.
So the chieftain of the tribe McCoy aligns with is just kind of killing all his enemies and slaughtering people with arrow. Kirk, Spock, and Bones have a light-hearted philosophical discussion about the whole thing in the shuttle as a genocide is no doubt taking place on Barak-7. Oohh-kay, that pretty much went against every ideological foundation of Star Trek.
Star Trek #11
“…Like A Woman Scorned!”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer; Editor: Louise Jones
Martin Pasko returns for the eleventh issue and hopefully won’t have Kirk and his crew shatter every moral underpinning of the Star Trek universe like the previous one did. At this point, it’s becoming clear that they deeper Marvel goes in this series, the less of a priority it becomes as every issue features a reshuffled creative team.
This time around, we have Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer on art as the two present a much crisper Trek tale. The cover features a space serpent dragon monster thing coiled around the Enterprise. Well, no TV budget is bringing that to life in 1981, so go comics! Ah, but when one reads the issue, one finds out that the beast on the cover is not a dragon at all, but the Loch Ness Monster. And you know, if there’s a Scottish beastie around, that this will be a Scotty story. It’s about time. After eleven issues, Scotty has barely left engineering.
The Enterprise’s mission in this issue is to transport a controversial new age (I guess it’s the future so that would be new new new age) guru Doctor Wentworth and his assistant Andrea Manning away from a planet overrun by radiation. Drexler is a total megalomaniac and spouts touchy-feely nonsense to the crew, encouraging them to embrace their desires and shirk their duties. As for Manning, she used to be a lover of Montgomery Scott, but Scotty spurned her for a life of service to the Federation.
Manning just kind of hangs out in the sick bay and drinks while strange apparitions taken from Scottish lore begin appearing around the ship. First, there is a witch named Black Annis (stop snickering), then a giant bird of prey, and finally, a space-faring Loch Ness monster. It seems that these Scottish legends were all mentally created by Manning who was taught the technique by Drexler.
Drexler compels the crew to mutiny so Uhura and Sulu make the mind-controlled heel turn because they want to go on vacation. Scotty goes all comatose in sick bay and Bones is able to stop the solid apparitions by sedating Manning. It’s all fun if anti-climactic, but, hey, it features a Scottish witch using her powers to make a phaser grow to incredible size and crush a no-named Federation jobber. In truth, the whole thing was pretty much the exact story in issues four and five and the book ends without a catharsis with Scotty and Manning.
As far as we know, Scotty is still in sick bay, twitching hysterically because of Scottish monsters. Oh well. At least we got a look at Scotty’s past love life. You know what, though? There hasn’t been a single, healthy romantic relationship in this series so far. But the Enterprise fought the Loch Ness Monster, so we’ll put this one in the win file.
Star Trek #12
“Eclipse of Reason”
Writers: Alan Brennert and Martin Pasko; Artists: Luke McDonnell and Tom Palmer; Editor: Louise Jones
Another issue, another creative shift. Pasko returns as writer, but is joined by Alan Brennert while famed Suicide Squad artist Luke McDonnell comes aboard. Again, this many creative shifts is always a sign of a title’s eventual decline, but we still have a ways to go before the Enterprise leaves the Marvel docking station.
This one features a pretty cool Joe Brozowski cover that sports a strange alien with a crystalline head and energy brain blasting the minds of Kirk, Spock, and a female officer that I think is supposed to be Janice Rand because, believe it or not, this is a Rand-focused issue. Yeah, we haven’t had a Sulu, Chekov, or Uhura issue yet, but here is your Rand spotlight! I’ve always kind of dug Rand though, so this should be a unique opportunity.
The issue starts with Rand introducing Kirk to her new husband while, in his log narration, the captain laments losing Rand as she joins the crew of the USS Icarus. Rand’s husband just so happens to be a blast of energy locked in a glass pyramid so yeah, this issue starts very Grant Morrison-y. (What have I said about zero healthy romantic relationships in Marvel’s first Trek run?)
Of course, the whole thing devolves into Rand lamenting to Kirk how he never met her physical needs back when she was first stationed on the Enterprise and mooning over the lost chance at romance with her captain. She puts forth that she has married a disembodied bundle of psychic energy because Kirk didn’t hook up with her years ago. Well, damn. Kirk asks: “But what about your body, Janice? He doesn’t even have one… so what can he feel for you? What kind of husband can he be?” Basically, right there, Kirk admits that he thinks meaningful love can only be accompanied by dry humping. Wow, this comic.
These beings, the Phaetonians, need Rand aboard to help them be their hands, eyes, and ears as they navigate the Icarus through extra-dimensional space. As soon as the Icarus embarks on its mission with the Phaetonians and Rand on board, the Phaetonians go mad and take over the ship’s systems. They grow increasingly paranoid and desperately want to go home. So the Phaetonians plot a course to their home world, forgetting about the fact that a starship doesn’t land, it docks with a space station. Now, there’s a danger that the starship will crash into the Phaetonians home world causing billions of deaths. Well, that went pear shaped quickly.
Because Kirk is king of all testosterone, Rand desperately reaches out mentally to him and her thoughts are intercepted by Spock. The Enterprise races to help the Icarus as Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Sulu beam aboard the ship gone insane. Instantly, the Enterprise away team is attacked by Phaetonian-possessed exercise equipment as Kirk fights barbells and Spock takes on an elliptical machine in a titanic struggle. I am not kidding!
Sulu gets slapped by a sparring robot and one Vulcan mind meld with Rand’s Phaetonian husband, and things are restored to what passes for normal in this bugnuts issue. Rand is taken to sickbay and is all like, “Oh well, my husband made of thought energy went batshit insane so I guess I’ll have to get my marriage annulled.” And Kirk is all like, “It’s OK, you can go back to being transporter chief again.” What the fuck did I just read?
There is a great scene where Scotty realizes that the Enterprise will have to ram the Icarus to keep it from crashing on the Phaetonian home world and prepares the entire crew of the Enterprise for their deaths. That was pretty intense. And it all was happening while Kirk, Spock, and Sulu fought gym equipment.
Star Trek #13
“All the Infinite Ways”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Joe Brozowski, Tom Palmer, Marie Severin, and Diverse Hands
Ah, Diverse Hands. That was a creator credit that appeared when a large group of artists had to each ink a page to keep a book on schedule. So, the creative chaos continues for Marvel. At least Martin Pasko is back to keep the book’s voice consistent. We also get a pretty attention-grabbing cover featuring a Klingon holding a gun to a nurse’s head while Kirk cries: “Hold your fire, Spock. We’re playing by Klingon rules now!” The Klingon proclaims: “Take one more step and McCoy’s daughter dies!”
Yup, McCoy’s daughter. For you veteran Trekkers, you know that McCoy’s daughter has been an accepted part of Trek lore since almost the beginning of the series. McCoy’s daughter almost appeared in a few episodes during The Original Series, but was written out at the zero hour. Roddenberry himself has said that he wanted McCoy’s daughter to have a love affair with Kirk (because of course) but Bones’ little girl never made a canon appearance. She has been a favorite fanfiction subject and has quite the cult following throughout Trek fandom ever since. So let’s see what Marvel did with her in her comic book debut.
The crew of the Enterprise beams down to Hephaestus, a planet of intelligent simians (because why not do a sort of Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover?) to negotiate a treaty that would lead to the Federation gaining mining rights on the mineral rich planet. Unfortunately, the Klingons are there as well to try and secure the mining rights for themselves.
When Kirk and his crew arrive, McCoy is shocked to find his daughter, Joanna, already on the planet caring for her ill fiancé, a Vulcan named Suvak. Bones reverts back to his old prejudicial ways and a whole lot of drama between father and daughter ensues, including Bones questioning how Joanna can stand only mating once every seven years and Joanna questioning her father’s virility. Yipes! As I said over and over, no healthy romantic relationships in this comic.
Meanwhile, the Klingons start murdering Hephaestians and Chekov is framed for one of the killings. With Suvak dying, Bones must try to solve the murders and care for a son-in-law he does not approve of. There’s a whole bit about the Hephaestains gaining intelligence through symbiotic implants and the Klingons trying to destroy the symbiotes in order to render the Hephaestians animalistic nature so they can take the planet from a non-intelligent species.
As all this is going on, the battle of the McCoys gets worse with Bones even slapping Joanna at one point while her fiancé lies at death’s door. Yeah, Bones not coming across as a real nice guy in this one. The whole thing ends with Suvak sacrificing himself to save his fiancé and the Hephaestians from the Klingons and Bones admitting that, deep down, he’s glad the Vulcan is dead because it will save his daughter future heartache. Spock tells Bones he’s only being human and everything wraps up.
Well, that was depressing. In truth, the issue was pretty darn dramatic and honest even if it made Bones come across as kind of a dick. It would have been nice to Joanna explored a bit more but this issue was still a deep mediation in Dr. McCoy’s past and, hey, it even found an important role for Chekov. Introducing McCoy’s daughter was a bold move for Marvel and, even though the appearance became non-canonical, it made this issue seem important.
Star Trek #14
“We Are Dying, Egypt, Dying!”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Luke McDonnell and Gene Day; Editor: Louise Jones
This issue is emblazoned with an Ed Hannigan cover featuring Captain Kirk dressed as a pharaoh using his scepter to bring a stone sphinx to life in order to attack his crew. Well. This should be fun.
Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura beam down to the planet Zeta Reticuli II (worst planet name ever) to warn the inhabitants of an impending extinction level meteor storm. The crew finds a culture that mirrors ancient Egypt with mummies, pyramids, Egyptian gods and everything else you expect in this sort of thing — but no people.
Suddenly, the crew is attacked by a rampaging sphinx statue. Kirk is possessed by the spirit of Menteptah II because of course he is. (Hey, Marvel kept Kirk’s shirt on until issue fourteen so give them some credit.) Man, would I give my eye teeth to see Shatner chew the scenery in a live action version of this story. Imagine Shatner wearing a pharaoh headdress, shirtless, bombastically spouting over-the-top dialogue about being a god and sacrificing people to Anubis and all that jazz?
Meanwhile, Spock and Scotty stage a rescue mission, with Spock beaming to the planet and fighting Kirk. Somehow, Kirk as Menteptah is able to shrink the Enterprise. As Scotty and the crew are getting trash compactered, Spock takes down the possessed Kirk and saves the day. And yes, Menteptah was able to use drugs to control the rest of the landing party and even made Uhura his Nubian queen. Hey, at least she was in the issue.
McCoy un-Nubian queens Uhura and cures the rest of the crew as everything just kind of wraps up with the Enterprise shooting the meteors that threaten the planet. So, why didn’t they just do that in first place? The issue was action-oriented and breezy, but not one of Marvel’s finest Trek moments, especially after the introduction of Joanna McCoy in the previous issue.
Star Trek #15
“The Quality of Mercy”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artists: Gil Kane, Dan Adkins, and Al Milgrom; Editor: Al Milgrom
An issue of Star Trek drawn by Gil Kane, the co-creator of Green Lantern Hal Jordan? Yes, please. While Martin Pasko provides stability on the writing side with this fifteenth issue, we have an editorial shake up as Al Milgrom takes over from Louise Jones. Milgrom would only be on the book for four issues, overseeing the end of the Marvel Trek era, and while Milgrom is a very capable and accomplished editor, Jones was one of the best in the business, especially on licensed properties.
The Milgrom Trek era begins with a cover of a strange alien appearing in the foreground with McCoy questioning, “That-that can’t be… Captain Kirk?” Let’s find out what Bones is so worked up about. I hope he doesn’t get too stressed, he might smack his daughter (again). Jeez, Bones. Anyway, with Kirk transforming into a pharaoh last issue, it seems that this will be two issues in a row where James T. is somehow polymorphed, but, alas, the cover is a bit of a bait-and-switch as Kirk and company are simply wearing disguises throughout the issue.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and Uhura must beam down to a giant prison fortress to rescue the shape shifting son of an alien ambassador. The Federation is not allowed to see foot on this planet, Miaplacidus II, so the crew must be extra careful. And in one of the more violent turns Marvel’s Trek takes, this prison fortress is one giant death row as the Miaplacidans revel in torturous methods of execution.
Pasko and Kane treat us to people being bisected, de-limbed, pulled apart, burned, and more fun stuff. Kirk’s team is disguised as Miaplacidans. They volunteer to help retrieve an escaped female prisoner. When they venture outside, they find the girl killed by a beast. They all find out the ambassador’s son had disguised himself as Spock and this is when things take a very odd and melodramatic turn.
It turns out the shapeshifting kid recently got high off his alien gourd and was involved in an accident. This mishap killed his girlfriend; he was breaking into the Miaplacidan prison in order to punish himself. He planned to help a prisoner escape and take her place so he could be executed. Well, that’s convoluted.
Kirk and company bust back into the prison, kick some butt, replace the cruel warden with a kinder, gentler torturer, and beam off, rescuing the twitchy, shapeshifting, guilt-ridden stoner. In truth, the idea of a city-sized death row is kind of cool, but this issue was diluted a bit with melodrama. I kind of wanted to see the dumb kid executed. But we did get to see Kirk and his pals fight a truly reprehensible enemy, so there’s that. Sulu even got to kick a little ass.
Star Trek #16
“There’s No Space Like Gnomes!”
Writer: Martin Pasko; Artist: Luke McDonnell, Gene Day, and Sal Trapani; Editor: Al Milgrom
This is the issue where the crew of the Enterprise meets a race of garden gnomes. Three issues left and Marvel pulls this one out of its fanny? The artistic instability continues as, sadly, we are only treated to one Gil Kane issue. But McDonnell is always an artist’s artist and does a nice job on this bit of schlock.
To kick off the issue, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and a female Andorian officer named Themon beam down to the planet Valerian to resupply the Andorian colonists that are building a settlement on the verdant world. The crew is quickly attacked by a group of hairy trolls that kidnap Themon, much to Chekov’s horror. Because, you see, Chekov and Themon are an item. And they aren’t damaged or arguing about Chekov’s virility, they aren’t estranged or embittered, they are just young lovers who care about each other. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the first healthy romantic relationship in a Marvel Star Trek comic and it belongs to a brave Andorian and the underutilized Pavel Chekov!
The crew are rescued by a group of gnomes that call themselves the Kuwalden. At first, the Kuwalden help the Enterprise, but, later, a group of Kuwalden riding bats attack the ship. Wait, what? It turns out the Kuwalden’s have great powers of matter transmutation, thanks to their little gnome hats. They wish to protect their planet from colonization. The Kumwalden transformed the colonists into trolls which is why the troll kidnapped Themon, because the trolls are actually Andorians.
Kirk gets his hands on a little gnome god cap and turns the gnomish power against them. It turns out the Kuwalden once visited Earth, which is where the gnome legend came from. Think about that next time you notice your little garden gnome peering at you. Kirk agrees to relocate the colonists and everyone — gnome, human, Vulcan, and Andorian — lives happily ever after… except for the fact there is now a planet of nigh omnipotent gnomes who ride bats somewhere in the galaxy.
Scotty ends the issue with the pun: “Where gnome men have gone before,” because of course he does. So, yeah, space gnomes. To think, just one issue ago we were dealing with a death row planet and a drug addict desperately wishing for violent execution. Oh, Bronze Age, thy name is variety.
Star Trek #17
“The Long Night’s Dawn!”
Writer: Mike W. Barr; Artists: Ed Hannigan, Tom Palmer and Dave Simons; Editor: Al Milgrom
With only two issues to go, we have a major creative shake up as Martin Pasko bows out, replaced by Mike W. Barr, and yeoman artist Ed Hannigan pops on as penciller. One thing that jumps out at you is that the issue sports a gorgeous Walt Simonson cover with the heads of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy framing an immaculately-rendered Simonson Enterprise. Truly, a thing of beauty. And the story under the cover was pretty darn good too.
The Enterprise arrives at the planet Goran IV because of a big fat Federation screw up. A Starfleet probe fell to Goran IV and the satellite’s fuel poisoned the planet’s atmosphere. Whoops. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have to beam down to the primitive planet in order to ascertain the atmosphere and figure out if the Enterprise needs to deliver a countermeasure to the damage the Starfleet machine may have done.
It turns out that, yeah, the Federation almost inadvertently committed genocide as the elderly and infants on Goran IV are succumbing to the atmospheric poisons, but there is more drama planet-side. Goran IV is in an age equivalent to Earth’s Middle Ages. Science is shunned in favor of religious superstition and, when Spock’s ears are accidently revealed to the inhabitants, he is almost burned as a witch. Poor Bones is taken prisoner and tried for witchcraft and almost drowned as the whole thing becomes the Trek version of The Crucible.
Barr keeps the action taut and McDonnell’s art is downright gorgeous as Kirk and company take on the Clerics of the Cathedral, a bunch of super creepy hooded inquisitors. This is probably the most intense issue of the series as Barr draws some pretty spot on parallels from Earth’s history. Good stuff.
Star Trek #18
“A Thousand Deaths”
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis; Artists: Joe Brozowski and Sal Trapani; Editor: Al Milgrom
And here we are at the end of Marvel’s first Star Trek era. This issue features another creative shake up as Joe Brozowski returns to art and is joined by writer J.M. DeMatteis, the legendary scribe who co-created the Bwah-ha-ha era of the Justice League.
The cover promises that this final issue will be a “Special Last Issue Collectors’ Item.” Well, considering I bought the entire series on eBay for 12 bucks, that proclamation was not exactly prophetic. The cover does feature a very nice Brozowski drawing of a mind-melding Kirk and Spock though. As for the issue’s innards, the series goes out with some hard, thoughtful sci-fi as the Enterprise runs afoul of a world ship — a planet-sized vessel guided by a giant robot named The Sustainer.
Other than sounding like an energy drink or a virility drug, The Sustainer is the caretaker of the people of Solopziz and puts Kirk and Spock through many arduous tasks. First, The Sustainer transforms reality as Kirk and Spock find themselves on an ancient pirate ship. Kirk dies fighting the phantom pirates, but The Sustainer revives him, showing that his people have conquered life and death. Then, Spock falls and Kirk undergoes a reaction eerily similar to the yet-to-be-released (at this point) Wrath of Khan.
It turns out that The Sustainer is getting ready to revive the people of Solopziz, all of whom were kind of arrogant D-bags. The people of Solopziz engaged in war for millennia, so now that they are ready to be revived, The Sustainer needed mercy and compassion added to their DNA. Basically, it just forces Kirk and Spock to sacrifice their lives selflessly a bunch of times.
The whole issue was a meditation on the friendship between the crew of the Enterprise. I really can’t think of a more appropriate way to end this era of Star Trek comics. The last line of the book also is quite appropriate with Kirk saying: “…the human adventure is just beginning.” And Kirk was right as, after Marvel put its Trek series into dry dock, Trek fans thrilled to Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and many more Trek film sequels. Over a decade later, fans got to experience the beginning of The Next Generation and visit Deep Space Nine, followed by the adventures of Voyager and a look into the past with Enterprise.
At Marvel, fans got to see the legendary crew of the Enterprise fight Marvel’s version of Dracula and Frankenstein, they got to witness Kirk become a pharaoh and Spock become a barbarian, they got to meet McCoy’s daughter, and sit back and enjoy about three years of very strangely wonderful Trek adventures all brought to life by some of the industry’s greatest. Soon, Trek would journey over to DC, but in the ’90s, Star Trek would warp back to Marvel — an article for another stardate.
So, as we head into the era of Star Trek: Discovery, let us remember and honor the wonderful wackiness of the past produced by Marvel Comics — gnomes and all.