TrekInk: Trek Celebrity Comics March 5, 2008by Andrew Steven Harris , Filed under: Comics , trackback
As the Star Trek editor for IDW Publishing, one might think I would use my ‘guest TrekInk columns’ as a venue to hype our latest releases, but instead, I’m actually going to talk about all of the Star Trek stories that we don’t publish. Either comics that have come before—little gems of storytelling from other publishers that you might have missed the first time around—or, also, interesting pitches that we receive, which for some reason we’re not able to use. This week we will focus on past comics from Trek celebrities.
Judging from years past, one of the easiest ways to write for Star Trek comics is to be an actual cast member from a Star Trek series. (Of course, becoming a cast member is the actual hard part.) Celebrity authors always attract the interest of fans, and comics are no different: over time, an actor develops an intimate understanding of a character, and readers want to see what he or she can do with a showcase for that knowledge. Sometimes they’re even comics collectors themselves: Walter Koenig was the first cast regular to write a Trek comic, and he’s been well-known as a lifelong comics fan. Some have been natural storytellers who partnered with collaborators to acclimate themselves to the format of comics, such as George Takei, who co-wrote an issue with veteran Trek writer and comics icon Peter David; or Aron Eisenberg, who worked with Mark Paniccia, now a Marvel Comics senior editor. Others, like William Shatner himself, co-authored a prose novel, and then collaborated on its adaptation into a graphic novel. Still more, like Mark Lenard, John deLancie and Wil Wheaton, took up the graphic storytelling challenge on their own.
Interestingly, some of the best celebrity-authored comics are the ones that don’t feature the characters that the actors portrayed. Mark Lenard’s Deep Space Nine one-shot from Malibu Comics in 1995, “Blood and Honor”, sidesteps the obvious choice of Spock’s father Sarek in favor of the son of the Romulan commander from the all-time classic TOS episode “Balance of Terror”, the role in which Lenard first made his Trek debut. The result is an intriguing sequel to the episode, and one that makes effective use of the DS9 setting as a crossroad for diplomats at the same time. (By sheer coincide, the IDW Romulans Alien Spotlight from John Byrne also features that commander’s son, at a much younger age, in a prequel story to “Balance of Terror”. There—official Trek plug accomplished!)
Like with Lenard, Wil Wheaton skipped the easy Wesley Crusher story (are there any other kind?) to pen a TOS tale for Tokyopop’s second Star Trek: The Manga collection that debuted last year, and it’s easily one of the best in the book. Drawn by E.J. Su, recently of IDW’s Transformers comics—official non-Trek plug accomplished!—Wheaton’s “Cura Te Ipsum” (Latin for “heal thyself”) tackles a Kirk vs. the Prime Directive tale with surprising skill, and establishes his cred as a comics creator well beyond his celebrated cult of geek.
Shatner, of course, earns opinions of all stripes for his novels, but the only comics adaptation of one of his books, the 1995 graphic novel Ashes of Eden from DC Comics, is actually pretty damn good. Co-authored by his collaborators Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and released at the same time as the novel, Shatner lapses into the typical Kirk-centric glorification that you would expect: bedding the hot girl, and looking more strapping and barrel-chested than ever in even the original series. But, at the same time, he crafts a sequel to Star Trek VI—the finale film of the original crew—that does solid justice to all the characters involved, including his fellow series regulars… and, in a fitting climax, to the Enterprise itself. It’s not a canon story, of course—none of the comics are—but it certainly has the feel of one.
In 1990 DC issued longer format annual #1’s for both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, each featuring a celebrity writer (George Takei and John deLancie respectively). while they’re both worth a read, it’s Takei’s that edges out the other. (Of course, it’s hard to go wrong with Peter David as your partner.) I think most readers would agree that Takei’s story, about a long-lost love with whom he reconnects under dangerous circumstances, suffers a bit under the art of Gray Morrow, whose likenesses aren’t entirely consistent, and perhaps takes the intentional ennui element of the alien world narrative a bit too literally. But, there’s real texture on the surface of the story and real depth at its heart, and ultimately it expands the character of Sulu in ways that aren’t typical of licensed comic books. The collaboration between Peter David and George Takei led to an ongoing creative relationship. The pair later worked together on the audio-only Trek novel Cacophony, and Takei even starred in the David-written indie sci-fi film “Oblivion”. (Yeah, I know, I’m one of the few people who’s seen it; but there’s a Trek joke in there from Takei that’s absolutely classic.)
In the 1990 DC Annual #1 for TNG John DeLancie delivers a Q tale—as you might expect—one that, in retrospect, has become awfully familiar, though at the time it likely seemed in perfect line with the character (and was). After a strong start and engrossing middle, deLancie ultimately takes the easy way out, employing a twist of fate that seems both convenient and author-orchestrated (like, perhaps, some of the lesser Q stories)—although until that point it’s a solid read.
Aron Eisenberg’s foray, the August 1995 one-shot “The Rules of Diplomacy” (a word-play on the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition”) may be the low point of the celebrity comics. Perhaps my disappointment comes from the fact that I thought Eisenberg was simply awesome as Nog, easily earning his place among the regular cast members; and I really liked the Dragonlance stories that he co-wrote with Jean Rabe and Margaret Weis as well. It’s also a great premise—Nog, as Starfleet’s first Ferengi cadet, must grapple with the conflict between the Ferengi’s Rules of Acquisition and the Federation’s own rules of conduct. But, somewhere along the way, the story becomes more about a Klingon teen and not Nog himself—as if Nog can only be seen in counterpoint to another character (like Jake). Which, quite frankly, wasn’t the case at all by the time that the issue appeared.
But, if Eisenberg’s issue fell short of my higher expectations, Walter Koenig’s story in issue #19 of the first DC series blew past them at Warp 10. The first celebrity-authored tale—and the best—I’m forced to make a confession here: Pavel Chekov was initially my least-liked character among the original crew. That bad haircut, all that “wessels” business—it just didn’t work for me. If aliens across the galaxy could pronounce the letter “V”, why couldn’t this guy? But that all changed for me after this issue. Koenig makes his comics debut as an extremely confident writer, willing to let the reader think that he had blown it completely—individuals acting out of character, an unnatural but predictable focus on himself getting the hot girl, and so on—before finally pulling back the curtain to reveal that, yes, he really did know what he was doing all along. I won’t say any more to keep from giving away too much—which is saying something for an issue that came out more than 22 years ago—but it’s definitely one that readers should track down and pick up. (Koenig wrote an episode of The Animated Series as well, and that’s also become a favorite of mine.)
Coming Up in April
For my next guest ‘TrekInk’ we’ll tackle the flipside of the “celebrity” author, and take a look at that long and storied (literally) tradition of—Star Trek fanfic. As a professional Star Trek editor, I think you’re going to be surprised what some of us on the other side of the word processor think. See you then!
Andrew Steven Harris is the Star Trek editor for IDW Publishing and most recently the author of Star Trek Alien Spotlight: The Borg.. Andrew will be providing periodic (monthly likely) guest ‘TrekInk’ columns.