DC Comics Star Trek #5 (Mortal Gods) directly answers my criticisms about the previous issue by giving us a story that, if not wholly original, is at the very least non-derivative of an episode from The Original Series. That being said it does pose a number of chronology problems that made it hard to fully buy-in to the premise.
(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.)
Sci-fi is replete with explorations of how high technology societies would be interpreted by less advanced civilizations should they ever meet while knocking around the universe. It was Alan C. Clarke who declared that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic,’ and it’s from the quote that the fifth entry in the DC Comics Star Trek series flows.
Now that war with the Klingons has ended, the Enterprise has been ordered to investigate the disappearance of the U.S.S. Valor, which went missing during combat. It’s unclear how much time has passed since the Valor’s disappearance and the cessation of hostilities, which makes much of the rest of what happens fairly confusing.
At first, things seems fairly straightforward. Kirk appears to have a past relationship with the Valor’s Captain Hodges, which presumably sets us up for some kind of payoff later (update: no, there isn’t). It turns out that the Valor’s last known position is littered with debris, and a landing party beams down to a nearby class M planet to search for survivors.
The planet – Beta Epsilon VI – is inhabited by a people who ‘register only a ‘8’ on the Richter scale of culture,’ according to Saavik, who manages to work in a reference to an earthquake magnitude measurement for reasons known only to writer Mike W. Barr. On the page this appears to mean plowshares and beasts of burden, and although the crew is ordered not to interfere under any circumstances with the native population, Ensign Bearclaw soon messes that up by PHASERING AN ALIEN HORSE.
It’s here that things get a bit weird. Apparently one of the landing party is able to identify, from a distance, that the plowshare is made of refined metal, which is seemingly above the capabilities of an ‘B Richter’ planet. Once spotted, post-phasering, the Enterprise crew are quickly worshipped by the Beta Epsilonians as gods, and taken to a temple where they discover a very comfortable Captain Hodges has set up his own mutual admiration society.
You can see where this is going. Hodges has ingratiated himself to the locals after crash landing there by leveraging his Federation smarts to improve the state of their society and also ending a bloody conflict between two factions. He also somehow managed to marry the daughter of a local dignitary, despite the fact that he’s a human and she’s, well, apparently attracted to humans, especially those that order her around like property.
Time, Time, Time
The big problem with this is…how long has Hodges been on-planet? It feels like the Klingon war ended only a week, or weeks beforehand, yet the once-Captain has made sweeping changes to his new planet that realistically would have taken months, if not years to implement. He also has complete control over his minions, too, threatening Kirk with imprisonment only to wave away his guards at the last moment after the Admiral tells him he needs to knock off his shenanigans and come home to Earth to face the music about breaking the Prime Directive.
In any case, it seems that not all is well in Beta Epsilon paradise, as two generals ostensibly working together would much rather return to their unfinished war – and they hatch a plot to eliminate their god and get back to bloody business. Fortunately, Kirk and crew saves the day, Konom puts on a lightshow to convince the population that their god has to return to the heavens (and that everyone should obey the one remaining warlord, Lorac, from now on), and Hodges ‘wife’ elects to stay with him on the Enterprise in one of the three other violations of the Prime Directive Saavik identifies before Kirk and McCoy shout her down.
We also get to cash in on Ensign Bearclaw’s enthnic stereotype when Kirk asks him about his ‘traditional Indian upbringing,’ which turns out to be a euphemism for using his tracking skills to find a kidnapped Hodges in an era where they could just, I don’t know, scan the entire planet from space?
High Mark Of The Series So Far
Not a great issue, but certainly not a terrible one, and perhaps the first in the series to attempt a full stand-alone story that doesn’t rely on convenient crutches from Star Trek’s past.
It’s also worth mentioning this bizarre throwaway panel from the beginning of the book where McCoy is apparently doing some series of medical experiments on Konom to…discover how a Klingon can actually love peace?
Best Retro Ad From This Issue
There’s not much in terms of outstanding 80s kitsch in this particular issue, but I did enjoy this advertisement for Moon Patrol on the Atari that follows the golden rule of that era’s video game advertising: make sure you never show any actual graphics, because man, that would be disappointing compared to the art shown here.