Comic Book Review
The Best of Star Trek
Writers: Mike W. Barr, Diane Duane, Peter David
Artists: Tom Sutton, Dan Jurgens, Curt Swan, James W. Fry, Gordon Purcell (Pencillers); Sal Amendola, Bob Smith, Ricardo Villagran, Arne Starr (Inkers)
Despite being interested in comics and in Star Trek for most of my life, I’d never read a Star Trek comic until this past week. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I recognized that reading a comic book about Star Trek is by definition the nerdiest thing a person can do, and it was a leap I just wasn’t ready to take. Or maybe (and this is the more likely explanation, I think) I just forgot. Either way, a few days ago I read my first Star Trek comic. And I bet you’re all just dying to know what I thought.
Though IDW has taken over the Trek comics license recently, and has been reprinting a lot of the older material in omnibus editions, I went with an older paperback from the DC days, The Best of Star Trek. It collects eight issues of the 1980s series that followed the adventures of Admiral/Captain Kirk and crew during the era of the first six movies. If I were writing a Star Trek comic, it’s the era I’d probably pick. All those years in between movies gives you plenty of space to fill with new adventures, and also ample opportunity to drive the Trekkies nuts by blatantly contradicting established continuity. And really, what better reason for writing Star Trek could there be?
Reading these comics, culled from almost ten years of monthly issues, hipped me to bits of Star Trek lore I had never heard of, like Kirk commanding the Excelsior in between Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Don’t remember that, do you? No one does, unless they were reading the Star Trek comic in the early 1980s. It’s a great example of what makes the comics so interesting. The license didn’t allow the creators to make any major changes to the status quo — no main characters could be killed, or married off, or promoted, etc. — and the stories of the comics had to fit within the continuity of the movies. So after the Enterprise blew up and Spock came back in Star Trek III, the creators of the comic did the only logical thing: they put Kirk and crew on a new ship — the Excelsior — and sent them off to have more adventures. Except for Spock — the freshly resurrected Spock was given command of his own ship and sent off solo into the galaxy. Of course they had to undo it all, jump through a few hoops to get Kirk and crew off the Excelsior, into a Klingon Bird of Prey and back onto Vulcan, and scramble Spock’s brain when Star Trek IV came out, but for the years in between Star Treks III and IV readers got to see Captain Kirk and crew on a new ship, having fresh adventures. Not too shabby.
The stories collected in The Best of Star Trek were all pretty good, I have to say. Nothing that will displace “City on the Edge of Forever” or “Amok Time” on a best-of list, but solid meat-and-potatoes Star Trek nonetheless. There’s one story that takes place back in the era of the original series, “The Final Voyage,” depicting (go on, guess) the final voyage of the Enterprise’s five-year mission. It guest stars Commander Will Decker, resplendent in his dull gray uniform, and tentatively bridges the original series with the first film. It also features a return to Talos IV to check in on Captain Pike and Vina, and an appearance from the dastardly Klingon Koloth (the one from The Trouble with Tribbles), so things come nicely full circle. IDW just published a five-part miniseries depicting its own version of the final adventure of the five-year mission. I’ll be interested to check that one out, see how it differs from this old one-shot.
The rest of the collection is all from the era of the movies, with everyone running around in striped pants and red tunics. Which makes me happy, since I always loved those uniforms. A two-part story called “Double Blind” is cute, with Admiral Kirk and the gallant crew of the Excelsior traveling the wastes between galactic arms and encountering a species of warlike sentient kitty cats. Then comes one of the highlights of the book, “Retrospect,” the untold, splendidly apocryphal tale of Scotty’s wife. The story itself, written by Peter David, is just terrific, moving backwards from the death of Scotty’s wife to their first meeting as little children in Scotland. It’s a nice look into the life of a supporting character, something the original series and films rarely took the time to do. By the time The Next Generation came around, the writers had decided writing for an ensemble cast wasn’t such a bad idea, and as a result we got way, way too many hours of television centered on the exploits of Deanna Troi. It’s a shame the writers of the original Star Trek didn’t have the chance to do the same thing, ‘cause judging by “Retrospect” I’d have much preferred an occasional Scotty episode.
So it’s a nice story. But the real reason to check out “Retrospect” is the art, by none other than Curt Swan. It’s just gorgeously drawn, by far the best looking story in the collection. And I forgot to mention that “The Final Voyage” was penciled by Dan Jurgens. So if you’ve ever wondered what Star Trek would look like rendered by renowned Superman artists, pick this one up at your local comic shop.
Closing out the book is a three-part story, “The Trial of James T. Kirk.” In order to avert a war between the Klingons and a race of spacefaring religious fanatics called the Nasgul, Kirk (in command of the Enterprise A by this point) returns to Earth to face charges for violating the prime directive and killing aliens nonstop for the last twenty-five years. It’s apparently one of the most popular stories from the Trek comics, and I can see why. The trial is reminiscent of the end of Star Trek IV, and the climax is very similar to that of Star Trek VI, and there are cameos from lots of characters from old TV episodes who show up as witnesses. It also addresses one of the most interesting and largely unacknowledged aspects of Captain Kirk’s character — his flagrant racism.
The Klingon emperor accuses Kirk of being bigoted against Klingons, citing the imposing heap of corpses left in his wake as evidence. And the great thing is, writer Peter David doesn’t let Kirk off the hook. Kirk gives an impassioned speech about how he’s killed Klingons, sure, but the only reason the emperor is after his ass is because Kirk always beats the Klingons, proving they aren’t as tough as they think they are, and then he winds it up by blaming the entire race for the murder of his son, inadvertently proving the emperor’s point. “You took my only son, and for that I can never forgive you,” he tells the emperor, who had nothing to do with the murder of his son. The “Kirk is a big fat racist” scenes were some of my favorite parts of Star Trek VI, so I was all about this one.
As an introduction to Star Trek comics, I couldn’t imagine much better than this. Next I’d like to get some of the IDW stuff, which reprints the Marvel series from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, as well as the paperbacks collecting the Gold Key comics from that same era. The Gold Key series was drawn by a guy who had never seen the TV show and had only a few publicity photos to go by as references. I can’t wait to check that one out. Voyager would probably have worked out a lot better if it had taken a similar route.