DC Comics Start Trek #6 (Who Is…ENIGMA?) is the second quasi-original tale in a row from a series that is maybe, finally, starting to find its own legs. Still, much of what shifts this issue’s plot away from being a mirror image of Star Trek stories we’ve seen before seems to pull more from the fantasy side of the ledger rather than the hard science that has typically been a series mainstay.
(I’m blogging each and every issue of the DC Comics Star Trek run that debuted in 1984. Why would anyone want to do that? I explain all here in an introduction to this project that includes very first post in this series.)
It can be tempting when writing science-fiction to ‘magic’ away plot points and problems using throw-away lines that attribute what you’re seeing on the page or the screen to some type of technology that has never before been explained. Deus ex machina is a tried and tested technique for this type of story-telling, particularly in short-form sci-fi such as episodic television (see ‘Spock’s Brain’ for one of the worst offenders in the Star Trek pantheon), or…comic books.
This is the crux of ‘Who Is…ENIGMA?’ which relies on a shape-shifting assassin to provide the element of danger driving the entire issue. As with most of the DC Comics run so far, there’s also an element of the familiar has been shoehorned into the book, starting on the very first page with the appearance of Special Ambassador Robert Fox. You probably don’t remember Fox unless you’re a big Original Series fan, but he played a central role in the episode ‘A Taste of Armageddon’ about a computerized virtual war that required victims of simulated attacks to deliver themselves to suicide booths, preventing property damage and ‘unnecessary’ bloodshed.
His reappearance here is completely frivolous. Kirk makes a single-sentence reference to their shared history immediately upon greeting Fox in the transporter room, and it never comes up again. Here’s another perfect example of how timid writer Mike W. Barr has been to introduce a new character to the series in place of recycling random references from almost 15 years beforehand. It’s hard to tell whether this was his choice, or a directive from above to maintain a ‘link’ to the original source material, but there’s certainly nothing organic about it.
Most of the rest of the story is reasonably entertaining. Fox is being ferried to a peace conference with the Klingons, but what the crew doesn’t realize is that previously-mentioned shapeshifter is on-board too, and gunning to take him out before he can sit down at the table. The would-be killer takes a number of forms – including an extinct space-octopus, a security guard, and in a strange throw-away panel that has no bearing on the rest of the story, a steak-eating Saavik.
The real twist, however, is that the assassin is…Fox’s daughter, who was apparently brainwashed by something called the ‘Orion Victory League’ and then taught the ‘technique of total cellular metamorphosis – as developed by the natives of Antos IV,’ which serves as the magical plot element referred to in the opener to this post.
Let’s break down this idea for a moment. ‘Total cellular metamorphosis’ seems to give Fox’s daughter, Trisha, not only the ability to resemble any creature she wants, but also assume its powers (she seems to produce venom, and has extraordinary strength, as well as the ability to fly at various points in the story). This would seem to be an incredibly useful skill, and if some two-bit galactic terror group can teach it to a human in the four years or so since she’s had a falling out with her dad (who apparently wasn’t good enough at peace for her. No, really), why doesn’t EVERYONE IN STARFLEET receive this same training?
If Antos IV sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve heard it before, too, in a TOS episode called ‘Whom Gods Destroy.’ Again, Kirk name-checks a character from his past (Garth of Izar), who had also coincidentally learned the exact same technique (still not on the Starfleet curriculum), and Barr manages to slip in yet another reference to the episode in a later scene where Kirk, somehow suspicious of a totally normal-acting Scotty, challenges him with the same ‘queen to queen’s level 3’ pass-phrase he used on Antos IV decades ago. This forces Trisha to abandon the form of the chief engineer and fly into an active transporter beam as a giant bird.
I’m going to stop with the plot synopsis at this point, because it’s obvious that 1 – Ambassador Fox is saved, 2 – he begins to reconcile with his now-imprisoned daughter, and 3 – at some point there are two Kirks (as seen on the cover). Also, Scotty gets imprisoned in the walls of the Enterprise and the Klingons pal around with our beloved Captain after telling him how impressed they are by his space-murder skills.
I have to say that as easy a read as this story was, the constant, needless callbacks to Star Trek’s past are the worst part of the series so far for me. I’m not sure why my disdain is growing, other than perhaps the artless way in which they are inserted into the story. Nevertheless, there were more than a few things I did enjoy about Issue 6, including Kirk’s genuine emotional response to Scotty’s life being in danger, and, upon his recovery, Mr. Scott’s simple desire to read his technical journals as he convalesced in sick bay. Each felt like a personal, character-building touch that didn’t lean too hard on existing fandom.
The issue ends with a tease that we’re about to return to Vulcan to ‘learn the truth about Saavik,’ but also potentially see Spock (who is technically dead) again? Or is that Spock’s dad? Either way, I’m hoping that the nuggets of originality in ‘Who Is…ENIGMA?’ get polished a little more in the next story.
Best Retro Ad From This Issue
Buried in this month’s classifieds is an ad for something that’s alternately called a ‘Sun Powered Airship’ or a ‘Solar UFO.’ I can tell you that as a child, I would have been seriously interested in either of these product names, and probably wouldn’t have understood that its claims to being ‘powered by the sun’ most likely referred to UV rays heating up air inside a clear plastic bag that would then, maybe, on the very best of days, float up into the sky.
The ad really doubles-down on just how cool the UFO is, stating that if ‘cut loose’ (quotations their own), the airship can reach 30,000 feet, that it comes with a ‘special flying cable’ to control the height, and that ‘I watched an eagle attach the Airship at 2,000 feet while it was still climbing.’ What’s more badass than an eagle attack? Nothing.