It’s finally here — the moment of reckoning where two timelines, movie and comic book, collide in a massive explosion of chronological chaos. DC Comics Star Trek #9 (New Frontiers Chapter 1: …Promises To Keep) is the first issue immediately following the theatrical run and comic adaptation of ‘Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, which puts it smack in the middle of a trilogy of films that, in the franchise’s cinematic universe, occur back-to-back-to-back with only days or at most weeks separating their events.
(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.)
Really, writer Mike W. Barr was put in a lose-lose situation here. It’s clear that Paramount made zero effort to provide any meaningful link between the DC Comics series and its movie plans, which lead to Barr writing 8 issues of what are essentially throw-away comics that readers were asked to forget as soon as Star Trek III hit theatres. Not only that, but from our future vantage point we know that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is waiting in the wings, which dooms whatever DC cooks up to the same kind of ret-con in just two years time.
Until then, Barr and artists Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran are determined to do their best to fill in the blank spaces in between Nimoy’s directorial efforts, and to get started they’ve gone in a surprising, although ultimately risk-free, direction.
First things first. Remember what I said about deleting the events of issues #1-8 from your memory banks? That was no joke, because ‘…Promises To Keep’ picks up on Vulcan immediately following Spock’s ‘ST:III’ Fal-Tor-Pan ceremony that rejoined his katra with his Genesis-rejuvenated body. That means, apparently, horny Saavik, angry Ensign Bearclaw, and disappeared Konom never happened.
Judging by how Spock is portrayed as having difficulties returning to his old self on the first few pages of Issue #10, it would seem as though Barr might have at least an inkling of where the franchise was going with the upcoming fourth film. Sadly Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik also continue to avoid any kind of emotional exploration of the complex relationship between the crew and Spock. These scenes are more like cheerleading a co-worker than seeing your closest confidante resurrected by Vulcan magic in front of your eyes.
We’re reminded of past issues where there was almost no emotional processing on the part of the crew when it came to Spock’s death. This was a major mistake in terms of character development, and something that the movies handled infinitely better. I’ve stated before that using the pre-‘Star Trek III’ run of issues to dive deep into the pain and loss suffered by Kirk and McCoy seeing their best friend sacrifice himself for them would have been far more interesting that the somewhat generic space adventures that were put on the page. It also would have put a bow on the timeline issue. Unfortunately, mainstream comic books in the early ’80s simply weren’t interested in telling those kinds of stories, nor were Paramount/DC Comics tight enough to plan any of this together.
The burning question for me with this issue was ‘where do we go from here?’ Early on in the story the crew beams aboard their stolen Klingon bird of prey, with Scotty reprising his lines about the ship’s ‘antimatter inducer,’ and Kirk spouting off some weirdly passive-aggressive lines to Sulu about how the true test of a pilot isn’t landing a ship, but rather taking off.
In short order, we find out that the the crew is headings back to Regula I. In addition, word of the Enterprise’s destruction while thwarting a Klingon plot to ‘steal the secret of Project Genesis’ is big-time news in the Federation. This is demonstrated by a Starfleet admiral showing a humbled Captain Stiles (who failed in his pursuit of NCC-1701 on-screen in ‘Star Trek III’) a newsfeed describing the events before tasking him with capturing the rogue Admiral Kirk.
It wasn’t immediately clear to me why the Enterprise would return to Regula I, particularly given that the station was the scene of more than a dozen grisly murders in the previous movie. Barr uses it as an opportunity for further emotional catharsis by making it the scene for the slain David Marcus’ memorial service.
After an initially violent confrontation, Kirk and David’s mother, Carol, reconcile in a believable and unexpectedly tender moment in the Genesis cave. It’s some of the best characterization to date from Barr, and it’s almost too bad we didn’t get something like this in the movies, where Dr. Marcus is never heard from again. To belabor a point I made earlier: where was any of this when dealing with the death, and rebirth, of a character the audience actually cares about?
Barr also impresses in a sequence where Sulu, Chekhov, and Uhura discuss what’s next for them after the rather momentous events of the past few days. Chekhov especially is cognizant of the consequences of having obeyed direct orders, and while he doesn’t regret what he did, the three at least acknowledge that big changes are in store.
It’s almost enough to make me forgive the fact that on the page introducing this scene, Uhura is sitting in a tree playing a harp, while both she and Sulu sing the actual lyrics to the Original Series theme song, as penned by Gene Roddenberry himself. You know. Completely in character.
Saavik also gets her own existential moment while playing chess with Scotty. The pair trade spiritual crisis’s with Saavik wondering whether she has a place anymore with the Enterprise crew now that Spock is on the verge of returning and Scotty fearing that the loss of the ship means that the family they’ve built together will fade, too.
Then, after these welcome bits of personal growth and introspection things take a hard left towards Weirdsville.
With absolutely zero warning or transition, immediately after David’s funeral, page 19 puts us back on the bridge of the Enterprise, heading towards…Regula I. Has there been some kind of time-glitch? Is this a flashback?
Neither — we’ve just been sucked back into that most popular of narrative do-overs, the Mirror Universe. This trans-dimensional deus ex machina allows the Star Trek comics series to show Kirk murdering his ex by destroying her space station right after admitting to having done the same to his own son, all in the name of stealing her research data. On the very last page we’re treated to a full crew shot, bare mid-riffs and all, and the tease that somehow this information will help the Mirror Universe Enterprise invade our more familiar Star Trek dimension.
The first time I read through this issue, I kept going back and forth between pages 18 and 19, wondering if there was something I missed. The change in scene from regular universe to Mirror Universe is so abrupt and jarring that it felt like a page was missing from my issue.
Could Barr be setting up the ‘good’ Enterprise crew getting sucked in to the ‘bad’ universe, thus allowing them to experience shenanigans and hijinks that have zero effect on the timeline we’re actually following?
I must also admit that while it may have been fresh at the time, from my present standpoint Star Trek has done the Mirror story angle so many times that it’s become familiar, and a bit shop-worn. ‘Discovery’ even made it the focus of an entire season. Even though they were technically first, can the DC Series take it somewhere that feels new to me now? And how many different versions of Spock’s goatee will Sutton have to ink?
Best Retro Ad From This Issue
The back cover of Issue #9 is a plea to candy lovers to buy Baby Ruth or Butterfinger bars with the goal of sending in their wrappers in exchange for a free ‘Scripto’ erasable pen. Was this something kids wanted in 1984? I grew up in the 80s, and I must admit the entire erasable pen fad must have passed me by. Is this the ‘brussels sprouts’ of promotional giveaways, or were there legitimately a few junior accountants in training out there jonesing for this kind ink?