Ten For Ward #2: Ten Favorite "Classic" Trek Comics
Since obtaining the license to create official Star Trek comic books in 2006, IDW Publishing had largely been content to produce a succession of mini-series and one-shot issues in order to bring us new stories from the final frontier. Last week, however, IDW released into the wild the premiere issue of their first ongoing Star Trek comic. Based on the continuity established by the 2009 film, the series will focus on a young and still-unseasoned Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. According to Trek screenwriter Roberto Orci, who is consulting on the comic, the monthly title will “embark on missions that re-imagine the stories from the original television series, along with new threats and characters never seen before.”
With the arrival of this latest addition to the long history of Star Trek comics, I decided it was worth looking back at some of my favorite “illustrated adventures” of Captain Kirk and his crew. So, presented here in no particular order except how I wrote them down as I created my list, are 10 of my favorites. My Star Trek comics reading goes all the way back to the old Gold Key days, so buckle up as we set a course for nostalgia!
Star Trek: Debt of Honor, DC Comics, 1992
Written by Chris Claremont
Illustrated by Adam Hughes, Karl Story, and Tom J. McGraw
Lettered by Robert M. Pinaha
This was the first-ever Star Trek “graphic novel,” originally commissioned by DC as part of the celebration of the franchise’s 25th anniversary in 1991. The story centers on Kirk’s tireless efforts to prove the existence of a dangerous alien race, with which he has had multiple contacts throughout his Starfleet career. Though set after the events of the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the story utilizes flashbacks to show us these previous encounters, which take place when Kirk is a young lieutenant, then later as captain of the Enterprise during the five-year mission (just after the events of “The Doomsday Machine”), and later still at a point soon after Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His only apparent ally over the years is a Romulan commander who’s had her own run-ins with the mysterious aliens. Though perhaps overburdened by a preponderance of guest characters from various original series episodes and films as well as Chris Claremont’s verbose writing style, Debt of Honor is still a well-paced adventure that takes full advantage of the comics format to tell its story. This remains one of my favorite Star Trek tales, regardless of medium.
Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden, DC Comics, 1996
Written by William Shatner, with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Illustrated by Steve Erwin, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Gloria Vasquez
Lettered by Willie Schubert
An adaptation of the novel Shatner co-authored with the redoubtable Reeves-Stevens writing duo, The Ashes of Eden presents a “final mission” for both Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, following the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Searching for something to fill the void left behind by his retirement from Starfleet, Kirk soon finds himself caught up in an adventure on a far-flung world harboring a dark secret which threatens the recent and still very delicate truce between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. There were reports that Shatner approached Paramount with this idea as a possible seventh Star Trek movie featuring the entire original series cast, and this graphic novel version of The Ashes of Eden certainly lends weight to the notion that this story could’ve worked on film. When a decision was made to move Star Trek: The Next Generation to the silver screen, Shatner, collaborating with the Reeves-Stevens team, modified his story for novel form. Published by Pocket Books, The Ashes of Eden was the first of what ultimately would be 10 novels comprising the so-called “Shatnerverse” take on the Star Trek mythos, though it was the only one adapted for comics.
Star Trek: Early Voyages, 17 issues, Marvel Comics, 1997-1998
Written by Dan Abnett & Ian Edgington
Illustrated by Patrick Zircher, Greg Adams, Mike Collins, Steve Moncuse, Javier Pulido, and Marie Jarvins
Lettered by Janice Chiang
Yes, I’m cheating a bit, here, but you can do that when it’s your column. Early Voyages was one of two titles created during Marvel’s second tenure of Star Trek comics which did not tie directly to one of the television series. The adventures here take place more than a decade before James Kirk takes command of the Enterprise and feature his predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike. Beginning prior to the events of the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” the series chronicles Pike and his crew exploring their own strange new worlds as well as encountering Klingons, renegade Vulcans, and even future versions of themselves! Several characters from “The Cage” fill out Pike’s crew, along with several new faces created for the comic. Of the five regular, monthly Star Trek series published during this period, only Early Voyages was left with unresolved storylines when the Marvel’s license expired. To this day, fans still ask the book’s writers if any form of resolution might still be forthcoming. Sadly, we’re still waiting.
“The Final Voyage,” Star Trek Annual #2, DC Comics, 1986
Written by Mike W. Barr
Illustrated by Dan Jurgens, Bob Smith, and Michele Wolfman
Lettered by Agustin Mas
The Enterprise is ordered home from Starfleet Command, bringing to a close its historic five-year mission of exploration and adventure under Captain Kirk’s command. The ship is scheduled for an extensive refit upon its return to Earth, but those plans are put on hold when the Enterprise suddenly finds itself in orbit around Talos IV and surrounded by Klingon warships. The Klingons have discovered the secret of the Talosians' power over illusions, and plan to use it to strike at the heart of the Federation itself. This story serves as a nice ending for the Enterprise’s mission as well as a prelude to the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It even includes Commander Will Decker, the officer assigned to oversee the ship’s refit, dressed in what soon would be the standard “pajama-style” uniforms we see in the film.
“All the Infinite Ways,” Star Trek #13, Marvel Comics, 1981
Written by Martin Pasko
Illustrated by Joe Brozowski, Tom Palmer, D. Hands, and Carl Gafford
Lettered by Joe Rosen
This, arguably, is one of the best installments from the 18-issue, post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture run from Marvel in the early 1980s. Despite a very strict licensing agreement which prevented the comic from exploring any part of the Star Trek universe not directly referenced by the film, the series’ various writers still found ways to circumvent that directive from time to time. This issue presents one of the more overt evasions, putting a face and name to Leonard McCoy’s estranged daughter (mentioned only once, during an episode of the Animated Star Trek series), Joanna. The Enterprise crew finds her working on an alien planet which is at the center of a Federation-Klingon dispute and hijinks, as you might imagine, ensue from there.
“The Mirror Universe Saga,” Star Trek #9-16, DC Comics, 1984-1985
Written by Mike W. Barr
Illustrated by Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran, and Julianna Ferriter
Lettered by John Costanza, Janice Chiang, Carrier Spiegle
Here’s me cheating again. Whoops! Years before Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would reconnect our universe with the brutal, parallel reality introduced in the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror,” DC Comics took the plunge and launched an 8-issue arc leading out from the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Admiral Kirk and his command crew have been taken into custody by Captain Styles and the U.S.S. Excelsior, for their return to Starfleet. That is interrupted by the abrupt appearance of the mirror Enterprise in universe, and a mirror Captain Kirk bent on conquest! The story, like many of the tales told during DC’s run of the comic, is brimming with references and continuity nods, and it sets the stage for a series of adventures spanning thirty issues for Kirk and his crew aboard the Excelsior which —thanks to Barr’s deft writing—fits almost seamlessly between the events of the third and fourth Star Trek films.
“The Planet of No Return,” Star Trek #1, Gold Key Comics, 1967
Written by (Unknown)
Illustrated by Nevio Zaccara
The Enterprise discovers a lush green planet teeming with vegetation, but is the world as peaceful as it first appears? Of course not! This might not be one of the best Star Trek stories ever written, and it’s not even one of my favorites, but I’m including it here because it deserves mention simply for being the first-ever Star Trek comic. As such, it contains all the idiosyncratic charm which would come to define the entire Gold Key run. It’s all here: flaming warp nacelles, Mr. Spock’s oversized pointed ears, the uniforms, character likenesses and equipment which are just a bit “off,” and Enterprise interiors which are way, way off. The stories and artwork would—generally speaking—continue to improve as the series progressed, though they always would possess some degree of deviation from the television series itself, but it’s these peculiarities that gives this run of Star Trek comics its special appeal.
“Double Blind,” Star Trek #24-25, DC Comics, 1986
Written by Diane Duane
Illustrated by Tom Sutton, Ricardo Villagran, and Michele Wolfman
Lettered by Agustin Mas
Admiral Kirk and the Excelsior are caught in the middle of a confrontation between two “fierce” alien species in this hysterical two-part story from noted science fiction and fantasy author and Diane Duane. No stranger to Star Trek before taking on this assignment, Duane already had penned The Wounded Sky and My Enemy, My Ally, two novels which remain fan favorites to this day. Here, Duane’s humor shines through on nearly every panel across both issues, as Kirk must “outwit” the opposing alien captains and forge a truce between their respective governments while at the same time establishing relations between both civilizations and the Federation. As Kirk himself says at one point, “Some days, you wish you could just stay in bed.”
“Art of War,” Star Trek: Uchu, Tokyopop, 2008
Written by Wil Wheaton
Illustrated by EJ Su
Told in flashbacks, we learn of Captain Kirk’s confrontation with a Klingon commander after responding to a distress call from a Federation mining colony. The incident and its aftermath results in courts martial for both ship captains as they recount their versions of the story to their respective superiors. The dueling narratives offer the reader distinctly contrasting views between the Federation and the Klingon Empire regarding legal proceedings and justice, as well as expectations with respect to conduct in the face of combat. The story, published in the third volume of Star Trek “manga” produced by Tokyopop, was written by Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation). No matter what you might think of that character, the man who portrayed him most definitely has his finger on the pulse of what makes for a solid tale in the finest traditions of the original series.
“Once A Hero,” Star Trek #19, DC Comics, 1991
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Gordon Purcell, Arne Starr, and Tom McGraw
Lettered by Bob Pinaha
Peter David’s last issue as writer for the second series of Star Trek comics from DC is also one of his very best. During a rescue mission on an alien planet, Ensign Thomas Lee, only recently assigned to the Enterprise, sacrifices himself to save Captain Kirk’s life. Later, Kirk finds that he is grappling with what he will say at the security officer’s memorial service. He knows precious little about the man who died on his behalf, only to discover that no one else among his crew truly knew Lee, either. Kirk realizes that years of command have dulled his sensitivity to those serving under him, and this latest death is a harsh reminder about the nature and risks of duty, and not to take for granted those he commands while carrying out that obligation. The story, inspired by an episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye is asked to deliver the eulogy for a nurse he knew only briefly before her tragic death, is reworked into a wonderful character piece for Kirk as well as being a nice tribute to those often unnamed security officers who lost their lives in so many Star Trek episodes. Will you think the same of those poor Redshirts ever again?
And there you go. Obviously, this isn’t meant to be “Best of” or any kind of “definitive” list, and I’m certainly hoping you’ll add your favorites in the comments section.
The Ten for Ward backlist:
“Ten Favorite ‘Old’ Star Trek Books” – June 30, 2011
Dayton Ward is the author or co-author of numerous short stories and novels, including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often working with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. He’s also written (or co-written) for Star Trek Magazine, Syfy.com, and Tor.com, and is also a monthly contributor to the Novel Spaces writers blog. As he is still a big ol’ geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog: The Fog of Ward.