I’ve been a huge Star Trek fan my entire life. I got started down that path by my mother, who loved the Original Series, and who would watch it with me in syndication of CBC – which would soon move it to the after-school time slot and cement its status in my daily routine.
It was the movies, however, that amped my fandom. Specifically, my mom taped The Wrath of Khan off of ABC in the mid-80s, when it was broadcast around Canadian Thanksgiving. I can still remember eating warmed-up turkey-and-stuffing leftovers on a brass TV tray while watching Kirk, McCoy, and Spock teach me valuable lessons about friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice. Over, and over, and over again.
This lead to not just a full embrace of the Kirk-led Star Trek movies (ok, maybe we can leave out TMP and V), but also a relentless devouring of the Pocket Book series of Star Trek novels that were thriving in roughly the same period. These two media would become the key pillars of my Trek fandom – and yet surprisingly, I never once picked up the DC Comics series released immediately after The Wrath of Khan.
As I’ve mentioned before, I came to comics much later in life than most creators, but it’s still puzzling to me that as a child I would collect issues of Starlog and T.V. Guide that had Star Trek content yet was completely unaware of the existence of the DC effort.
I decided to remediate this gap in my Trek education by turning to eBay and purchasing the entire first-series run of the DC comics, to read them nearly 40 years after they were written. And because they’ve turned out to be so strange and of their time, I decided it would be fun to blog about each individual issue as I move from #1 to #56.
Remember – if you choose to keep reading past this point, you did this to yourself.
The modern sci-fi landscape is obsessed with canon, but back in the ’80s thing were a little more lax when it came to monetizing a series like Star Trek across different revenue streams. So it is with the DC’s take on Star Trek, which debuted chronologically in 1984, and stardate-wise immediately after the events that took place in The Wrath of Khan.
Right away, you’re probably picking up on why this might be a bit of a problem in terms of story-telling. The second and third Trek films are inextricably locked together, occurring mere weeks apart in the timeline of the cinematic universe, with the events of the former directly leading to the action of the latter.
Obviously, DC had no idea – or more likely, didn’t really care – about the content of any future sequels when it began planning the storylines for its Star Trek series. As a result, issue #1 ‘The Wormhole Connection’ sees a Spock-less Enterprise crew heading out on a brand new mission, with Kirstie Alley’s Saavik character taking the place of the deceased first officer.
The disconnects don’t end there. We’re also treated to a scene where Admiral James T. Kirk demands his command back, referring to the Enterprise as ‘the finest ship in the fleet,’ which is a far cry from the training vessel / ready for retirement status the ship holds in The Wrath of Khan.
In some ways, however, the first issue hews a little too close to what the world had just seen on the movie screen. Familiar faces parrot Wrath of Khan dialogue almost verbatim, such as the numerous references to ‘the main energizer’ by Scotty (as well as another ship’s crewman), Kirk’s personal log entry stating ‘I feel young!’ early on in the pages, and Bones even working in a ‘he’s dead Jim,’ in reference to Spock.
Klingons Bad, Drama Good
As for the story itself, it starts out with a seemingly unprovoked attack on the U.S.S. Gallant, a ship that exists long enough to be destroyed by Klingons and give the Enterprise something to investigate. It also serves as the roundabout introduction to several new characters, including an Ensign Bearclaw and an Ensign Bryce, who get in a slap-fight that ends with a full front kick right in the corridors of the Enterprise after one blames the actions of another’s father for the death of his own parent on the Gallant. Kirk manages to break up the fisticuffs after Bearclaw lands on top of him in the Starfleet equivalent of a meet-cute.
The ship is then ambushed by the same group of Klingons, using a new piece of technology paired with some very two-dimensional thinking, to quote another Wrath of Khan catchphrase. A somewhat hard-to-follow strategy enacted by Kirk saves the day and destroys the enemy, after which the Admiral makes the strange decision to pursue the remaining vessels through a wormhole wearing only a thruster suit (with Ensign Bryce along for the ride). A massive Klingon starbase is discovered, and the issue ends on a cliffhanger.
Boldly Going…Wherever They Want To
My first impression of issue #1 is that of a series trying to find its feet. Unlike The Search For Spock, there’s not much space given here to Kirk and co.’s emotional processing of Spock’s death. Instead, we’re given a stand-in where the Admiral is continually, and bewilderingly, incredibly hard on Saavik in front of almost everyone else in the crew.
McCoy finally confronts him about it by telling his friend that she’ll never replace Spock and he needs to stop constantly disrespecting her simply because she’s standing at his station. It’s a bit clumsy, and it takes half the book for the reader to be clued in that Saavik isn’t a terrible officer, but rather that Kirk is being an emotional child.
The first 16 issues of DC Comics Star Trek, including this one, were written by Mike W. Barr, well known for his work of Detective Comics (Batman), as well as Camelot 3000 and a number of other titles (Justice League, Green Lantern, Captain America). Tom Sutton would provide the pencils for most of the series (he credits the run with helping him overcome his impending descent into alcoholism), and inked/colored by Ricardo Villagrán, each of whom had extensive track records at the time of publishing.
Overall, it’s an intriguing initial effort. It’s also clear that as a concept, the series itself is going to run into some serious story trouble once The Search For Spock hits theatres, with the potential to completely wipe out any of the adventures seen on the comics page.
I’m quite curious to see how DC decides to handle that blow to cannon-dom, and just how much better the characterizations of the Enterprise’s leading lights becomes as time goes on. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun to read what a creative team with an essentially unlimited budget for special effects and zero constraints on what the future might hold for my favorite era of Star Trek comes up.
Best Retro Ad From This Issue
The inside front cover features a full-color ad for ‘Treasure of Tarmin,’ which was an AD&D title then available for the Intellivision.
As someone who never played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons on paper, but definitely soaked up the PC games in my younger years (going so far as to make paper maps on square-paper to track my screen-by-screen travels through the various worlds), I would have been so excited by graphics like these.