A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Jim Shooter

Short Takes: Star Brand #1

Star Brand #1 (Oct. 1986)

Marvel’s New Universe kicks off with this extremely subdued comic about a regular guy in Pittsburgh who rides motorcycles, works in an auto body shop, and is suddenly given the “greatest weapon in the universe.” John Romita Jr. came to this title off of X-Men and gives a kind of quiet dignity to a story that would have worked better in 1986 as a TV series. Al Williamson’s inks are lovely — no surprise there. Ken Connell is a very un-Marvel like character, which is a good thing. He’s also dull and a bit of a creep — he dates a successful woman named Barbie while also dating another woman who appears to have some kind of learning disorder — which is less good. Writer Jim Shooter leaves the big picture for all this overly vague, giving readers few reasons to come back for #2 unless they really want to know if Ken will commit to Barbie.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #18 (Feb. 1982)

Cover to Star Trek #18 (Feb. 1982). This is the final issue. Cover art by Joe Brozowski and Terry Austin.

“A Thousand Deaths” (22 pages)
Writer:
J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Joe Brozowski
Inks: Sal Trapani
Letters: Shelly Leferman
Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-in-chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artist: Brozowski & Terry Austin

Last issues are often unusual. It often seems like the regular crew jumps ship early, leaving the final issue to be cobbled together to be just good enough. And if it’s not? Well, there’s no next issue, no one to fire. That might explain why there’s no colorist credited on this issue — just a blank space in the credits that never got filled in before this went to press.

As I mentioned last issue, production on the upcoming movie sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan began in November 1981. This issue would have hit newsstands just a couple weeks before that, meaning the work on this issue and Marvel’s decision to cancel the series came far in advance of any hint of what was to come.

The cover is better than it needs to be. I like the purple tones and the color holds to show the mental connection between Kirk and Spock.

Star Trek #19, Page 1
An odd splash page. It took me a moment to figure out what Kirk was even doing here.

This one starts with Kirk working out on a trampoline, drawn a little more like a superhero than not on the splash page.

Kirk’s workout is interrupted by a call from Spock, who reports a giant mechanical ship has just zipped up to the Enterprise and blocking its way. Of course, it’s 20.6 times the size of Earth, and it promptly sends ethereal probes to the bridge before focusing on Kirk and Spock and transporting them away.

Star Trek #18, Pages 2-3.
It’s deja V’ger! This looks much harder to draw than it is impressive.

I guess it was easier to rehash these points from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and call it a book end than to work out something more original. It fills the first few pages, at least.

Star Trek #18, Page 4.
The top panel foreshadows later encounters with the Borg. The rest of the page has decent art, and I quite like this version of Kirk and Spock.

Then it gets silly. Kirk and Spock appear aboard the vessel and meet a large robot who calls himself The Sustainer. (He sounds like he should play guitar in a hair metal band, but he looks like Box from the Logan’s Run movie crossed with the Superman villain Brainiac.)

Star Trek #18, Page 7.
Meet … The Sustainer!

The Sustainer calls the ship the Solopziz, and announces that one of the two men will die and the other return to the ship. He doesn’t say why, but Kirk and Spock soon find themselves in a holodeck-type experience aboard pirate ships. Of course, they’re set to duel to the death, but Kirk realizes the other pirates are all robots. Kirk and Spock fight them until a mast falls toward Spock. Kirk pushes it out of the way and is killed by the impact.

Star Trek #18, Page 11.
Pirate chic is a surprisingly good look for Spock.

The Sustainer then reveals he can revive Kirk and does so. A second scenario begins when Spock opens an unguarded door into the inner mechanisms of the ship. Fascinated with the layout, he deduces with logic the structure of the ship, how it works, and where they can find the equivalent of the bridge.

Note to aspiring comics artists: This panel layout does not work.
More interesting artwork, this time with a bit of a Klaus Janson vibe. I wonder if he pitched in

But while walking across a narrow gantry, it gives way and Spock falls to his death. Again, the Sustainer revives him, and proceeds to attack the Enterprise, heating its hull to 3,000 degrees.

The Sustainer says this time, one of them will die for sure. No revival. Spock tries to take one for team, using a nerve pinch on Kirk. The captain, however, fights through the effects of the pinch to push Spock out of the way of the killing blow … which never comes.

The Sustainer then explains the reason for all this. The Solopziz people had become intelligent but lost their morality. They had no empathy, so the Sustainer set out to record the feelings of sacrifice Kirk and Spock felt for each other so his people could learn to feel for each other once again.

And with this page, Marvel bids Star Trek au revoir.
They reunited in 1996, with results that were not much better.

Having got what he wanted, Kirk and Spock are returned to the Enterprise and the ship goes on its merry way, with Kirk reminding everyone that the human adventure is just beginning.

No letters column again, but there is a pinup page showing Terry Austin’s unpublished cover for Star Trek #2. Oddly, Star Trek is included in the list of Marvel titles you can subscribe to in this issue. Production work is so much quicker today with computers.

Star Trek #18, pinup.
I like this cover a lot, but I think the one they chose was a bit more dynamic.

It’s kind of nice to see the bit about Kirk and Spock being willing to die for one another, foreshadowing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But the plot suffered from the silliness and lack of original ideas that plagued the series from the start. Going into the far reaches of space to find haunted houses, gnomes, and pirate ships is pretty dull.

How much of that came down to the restrictions Paramount had on the license is unclear.

While this was the last issue of the comic book, there was one last Marvel Star Trek project under the license. In January 1982, Marvel Illustrated Books published a paperback collection that reprinted issues 11, 12, and 7. The panels were split up and rearranged for the format. The color book ran 160 pages and featured a new cover by Bob Larkin that re-imagined the cover to issue #11. This was a follow up to a similar book published in March 1980 that collected the adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, also in color and including the glossary from Marvel Super Special #15.

Editor Al Milgrom must have taken on this title as he was transitioning away from a staff job. He’d already started Marvel Fanfare, which was a terrific project for its time and that he worked on as a part-time or freelance editor. He later went on to pencil long runs on Avengers and West Coast Avengers, before settling into a predominantly inking role in the 1990s and beyond.

Marvel’s success rate with licensed books was pretty mixed at this point. They started doing them in the 1970s with Conan the Barbarian, which was arguably the most successful of them all. TV and movie licenses such as Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, The Man from Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, and Indiana Jones all had pretty short runs. Star Wars, of course, was a huge hit for Marvel, but interest in it petered out only a couple years after Return of the Jedi. The toy-based licensed did OK: Rom, Micronauts, and Transformers all had respectable runs, while G.I. Joe was a runaway hit.

Star Trek was certainly in an odd place at the time this comic series ended. The novels were doing well, but other licensing options had not. The original series was still a hit in syndication, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture had turned a profit despite its bloated budget. But I can’t imagine many expected for kind of comeback Star Trek had after The Wrath of Khan was on the near horizon.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #17 (Dec. 1981)

Cover to Star Trek #17 (Dec. 1981). Art by Walter Simonson.

“The Long Night’s Dawn!” (22 pages)
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciler: Ed Hannigan
Inkers: Tom Palmer & Dave Simons
Letters: Rick Parker & Harry Blumfield
Colors: Carl Gafford
Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-in-chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artist: Walter Simonson

Now, that’s a cover!

And it’s no surprise that it comes from Walter Simonson, one of the great comic book artists of all time. This could have been a fill-in piece or pinup that was looking for a slot and Al Milgrom was wise enough to use it. Since it’s in the poster genre of cover art and could have run with pretty much any issue of Star Trek.

Also, I can’t imagine anyone on the editorial side of things at Marvel enjoyed that front-page ad mucking up the cover layout.

Overall, this is a much better issue. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s a near masterwork of competence compared with the previous issues.

Star Trek #17, Page 1
I like this splash page, even though it shows the limitations of comics production in 1981.

The Enterprise has been diverted to the planet Goran IV, where a Federation satellite that had been monitoring its star has fallen into the planet’s atmosphere. It burned up, but its fuel was released and is interacting with the planet’s atmosphere in way that will soon make it toxic to the people living there. They need to run a covert landing party to ensure the antidote they carry will work, though, before deploying it. So Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down in disguise to carry out that part of the mission.

Star Trek #17, Pages 2-3
Sorry for the page curve, but this is what they should have done more of in this series. The big panel across the top looks great and the rest of the page is well composed for exposition — and nice to look at. That’s not easy to do.

All of this is classic Trek plot. What makes it work is Barr and Hannigan’s collaboration. The thick exposition is effectively played out over a nicely restrained splash page, and particularly nice double-page splash that brings some of the movie’s widescreen scale to the comic.

By Page 4, the landing part has beamed down to a forest, their arrival observed by a girl who believes them to be angels and follows them into a town that evokes Europe in the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance period.

The latter period is more explicitly evoked when an old man named Gorman bumps into Kirk and Spock, dropping scrolls that show diagrams of the planet’s solar system. The old man grabs the scrolls and runs off.

Star Trek #17, Page 6
The detail helps sell this. It’s almost like something you’d see in an issue of Conan the Barbarian.

Then the authorities arrive in the form of Clerics, who serve the Cathedral, and they’re looking for Gorman. Suspicious of Kirk and Spock’s interaction with them, a fight breaks out, and Spock is knocked out. His hood is pulled back to reveal his ears, and he’s declared, of course, a devil.

Star Trek #17, Page 8
Faceless villains are impossible to care about, but the reveal of Spock’s ears is nicely staged.

McCoy meanwhile has found a local hospital. He finds one, though he thinks little of it, given that they refuse on religious grounds to relieve the pain. He surreptitiously scans a patient and learns the atmospheric toxin is affecting the population as expected. He tests out the antidote on one patient, and it starts to work immediately — but he’s been caught by the Clerics and taken prisoner.

The Clerics collect all the tools taken from McCoy, Kirk and Spock, and smash them to bits with a hammer. They then discover the little girl has been watching them, and try to catch her. She escapes, grabbing a pile of the wrecked equipment before Gorman helps her escape into the tunnels under the Cathedral.

Gorman and the girl find Kirk and Spock, but can’t unlock the door. They give them the remains of their equipment as it’s all they have.

Back on the Enterprise, they’re nervously awaiting word from the missing landing party, even as the toxins in the air begin to take effect and people start getting ill.

Spock uses a wire from the remains of a communicator to saw through the bolt of their prison door. They try and fail to free McCoy, and escape to find the girl waiting to take them to Gorman.

Spock stays with Gorman to try to signal the ship to use the antidote, admiring the primitive but scientifically useful astronomical equipment in the old man’s lab. The girl takes Kirk to save McCoy, who is scheduled to be tested as a witch at dawn. Spock uses a nerve pinch on Gorman, and sets to work building a device that can contact the Enterprise.

Star Trek #17, Page 17
Great example of something the comic can do that the TV show would have a hard time with. I also like the grit in Bones’ face in that last panel.

McCoy is set to be dunked into the river to see if he dies or his sorcery will save him. Once under the water, Kirk swims up to him, cuts him free, and they float down river a ways to get away from the Clerics. They come ashore, and the Clerics come after them after seeing McCoy got away and therefore truly must be a witch.

The toxin really kicks in, and the Clerics as well as Kirk and McCoy start to succumb to its effects.

On the Enterprise, Uhura is surprised to receive a primitive signal from Spock, telling them to drop the antidote into the atmosphere. Scotty makes it so, and the antidote quickly does its job.

Star Trek #17, Page 20
Star Trek comics can be cool when they push the visuals in a good way, i.e., they know what it’s supposed to look like and keep that in mind as they exaggerate for effect.

Kirk and McCoy wake at Gorman’s place with the girl and Spock, who explains he was able to use the materials in Gorman’s lab along with wiring from the wrecked equipment to create a crude radio transmitter and order the antidote dropped.

Star Trek #17, Page 21
This page looks like something from the first DC run of Star Trek, which was drawn mostly by Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran with great consistency and clarity.

McCoy gives the girl, whose name we finally learn is Lori, a little vitamin shot to clear up a muscle ailment that made it hard for her to walk. She’s grateful, and Spock tells Gorman to keep up the good work, and then they beam up to end another issue.

Barr writes a solid story in the Star Trek style, something he’d do with much more fanfare at DC a few years after this issue came out. It’s the equivalent of a standard episode of Star Trek, which other writers have shown is not an easy mark to hit. It also has good logic, not much fat to it, the characters all behave like themselves, and the script has the right tone and avoids going off into Stan Lee territory. (Stan was still the most admired writer at the time — most Marvel writers tried to emulate him in some fashion, at least until Chris Claremont’s X-Men and Frank Miller’s Daredevil grabbed the industry’s imagination and bottom line by the short hairs — and never let go.)

This issue draws on a lot of coincidences, but does it a thousand times more effectively than the previous one. The bit with Gorman as a Galileo analog is very on the nose, but still works reasonably well. Same with the little girl who saves the day, and the many speeches about how this race will, like humans, evolve out of superstition into a logical and scientific understanding of the universe. Maybe the analogous time period isn’t early Renaissance Europe, but 2022 America.

This is much closer to the quality level that was consistently delivered when DC Comics took over the Star Trek license, about three years away from this point. This issue would have gone on sale in August 1981, so it was still a ways out from when filming began on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in November of that year. Perhaps if Marvel had a glimpse of what was coming with Star Trek, they might not have canceled this series.

The art is quite good on this issue, though there’s a clear distinction between the first eight pages, which were inked by Palmer, and the rest of the issue, where Simons gives things a scratchier feeling. Hannigan was a real comic book work horse in the 1980s — what some might call a “jobber,” though I dislike how much that term brushes very talented artists who regularly delivered above-average work. Hannigan’s work wasn’t in the same league as a George Perez, John Byrne, or Neal Adams, but I always find plenty to admire and a solid sense of storytelling in the books he draws.

I remember putting this run together at various points in the 1990s. Whenever I’d run across an issue I needed, I’d pick it up. This ended up being the last issue I needed, and no place I looked had it in stock. It ended up being one of the first comics I ordered from on online retailer, from Mile High Comics, back in 1996 or 1997. Their prices were much more affordable at the time.

And with that, there’s only one more issue to go.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fog Hollow Comics, Phoenix, Ariz., 1986-87

Old Town Scottsdale is the kind of place where tourists like to overpay for snakeskin cowboy boots, extra-hot salsa, cheap turquoise jewelry and elaborate Kachina dolls. On the plus side, you can just as easily find some really good tacos and cold Mexican beer.

My family moved Oct. 2, 1986, to Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in a home in what was then the north edge of town, somewhere between Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road, just west of 92nd Street. My comics collection at the time fit in one long box.

Of course, the first thing I did was consult the phone book for a nearby comics shop, finding several listings but none nearby. The first one I found and the closest was Fog Hollow Comics, located at 3215 E. Thunderbird Road, almost nine miles away. (Thanks to the AZFandom.org folks for recalling its name!) It’s still today an 18 minute drive, without traffic, each way, from our old address. So it wasn’t convenient, but at least it was a place I could make it to once my perception of what’s too far away to drive to adjusted to Arizona standards.

At the time, there were no freeways in the area. Phoenix and Scottsdale were massively spread out areas with nary a two-story building in sight. It was, truly, a city built more for cars to live in than people. And being on the edge of Scottsdale made pretty much everything you wanted to do, aside from going to the grocery, a trip of 10 or more miles on surface streets with lights that never synched up except to ensure you hit every single one in red.

Not the actual car I owned, but a photo of the same model and color. It had the original floor mats, 4-speed manual transmission and ran on regular gas — back when you could still buy such a thing.

Nonetheless, with two younger sisters and two working parents, my drivers license made sure I was kept busy dropping off or picking up somebody around the entire north quarter of Phoenix in a yellow 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Thank god it had a tape player. It did not have AC. That deficit’s seriousness would not make itself fully known, however, until the following spring and summer. Either way, it was a lot of time spent in the car.

At the time, I was buying pretty much only Marvel comics. I knew exactly which ones were coming out each week, thanks to Marvel Age Magazine, and I had them on subscription at Fog Hollow — my first pull file. Money was tight, so I’d calculate the exact cover price minus the discount plus the sales tax to ensure I could pay for my comics before making that drive. More than once I paid for my weekly haul to the penny.

Fog Hollow was located in a strip mall suite and, unlike many comics shops, had large windows on two sides of the space and was therefore bright and open and inviting. There was the usual back-issue bin in the center, with new releases on racks around the edge. Under the back-issue bin, behind a small door, was where the subscriber books were kept.

I remember on my first visit finding at least two comics that eluded me in Edmonton and really shouldn’t have: X-Men #192 and Power Pack #27. The former I just never could find in any of the back issue bins at the shops I frequented despite being only a couple years old and all the issues around it being easy to find. Power Pack #27 was part of the Mutant Massacre storyline and had sold out instantly in Edmonton, but was still racked in the new comics when I rolled in to Fog Hollow. That made me happy, and I was a steady customer of the shop through the summer of 1987, when it closed.

I remember stopping in on Friday afternoons to pick up my books. (New comic-book days on Wednesday were not a thing at that time — at least not one I was aware of.) I’d take home the comics I was reading at the time — from memory, standard Marvel stuff, such as X-Men, The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, The Amazing Spider-Man, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, Marvel Saga, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, The ‘Nam, Strikeforce: Morituri, Power Pack, some New Universe titles and Cloak & Dagger — and would spend most of the evening after dinner reading, re-reading, admiring and thinking about the new books. I didn’t have anything else to do, really.

Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (Feb. 1987) is one of my all-time favorite comics. Cover art by Mark D. Bright.

Among the cool items I procured at this shop: A copy of X-Men #141 that I scored for a whopping 50 cents in the back-issue bin, and later took to the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con to be signed by both Chris Claremont and John Byrne; a second printing of The ‘Nam #1, as I was completely in love with this series and the great Michael Golden art; Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, which was easily one of my most re-read books for the next year; and a copy of the first printing of the Wolverine TPB, collecting the original miniseries by Claremont and Miller, costing me a whopping $4.95, plus Arizona sales tax. (A quick note: I had a tough time adjusting at first to sales tax because there was none in Alberta. There, if it cost 99 cents and you gave them a dollar, you got back a penny. In Arizona, if it cost 99 cents, you had to hand over $1.07.)

Cover to the first printing of the Wolverine trade paperback, which collected the four-issue series by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Josef Rubinstein for the first time. Cost me all of $4.95!

Fog Hollow was run by a woman named Susan Putney, whom I later realized wrote a graphic novel for Marvel called Spider-Man: Hooky, that was drawn by no-less-a-great than Bernie Wrightson. When I eventually acquired a copy, I really enjoyed it. I also found a site that referenced a quote from former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who said he really liked Putney’s work and thought she could be good — but she kind of vanished after Hooky and Shooter himself was out at Marvel around the same time.

Cover to Spider-Man: Hooky, published in 1986. Art by Berni(e) Wrightson.

A little Googling reveals Putney also wrote a science-fiction novel called Against Arcturus that was published in 1972 as a a flip-book paperback with Time Thieves, by no-less-a-great than Dean R. Koontz.

From Google, the flip covers to Against Arcturus and Time Thieves, published in 1972.

I remember she would ring up my sub titles and give me a knowing “good reads,” especially the third week of the month when X-Men, The ‘Nam and Marvel Saga all arrived.

I also remember lusting after the copy of X-Men #94 displayed behind the counter. I recall her mentioning how she’d already sold one to a kid who paid the $100 or so the book cost in cash. You never know what a motivated kid can do.

There was an arcade-style video game in one corner, that played a music loop the staff had memorized and timed down to the second. And I remember one time the staff opening a box from the distributor that included fresh copies of First’s Lone Wolf & Cub reprints. I was not yet smart enough to pick those up, but the staff was sure excited.

Later that summer, I remember coming in to pick up my books one Friday afternoon and Susan was upset, said that the store was closing and subs’ orders had been transferred to another store, called AAA Best Comics, over on North Seventh Street — even farther away from home. It was sad, she was nearly in tears. I said thank you, I had really enjoyed shopping at the store and was sorry to hear it was closing. I didn’t know what else to say — I was only 17 years old.

I proceeded to get into my car, and trek on down to AAA Best Comics, which was a fixture in my life for the next eight years or so.

And I think I may track down a copy of Against Arcturus.

But before that, my next post will feature a detour to the longstanding champion of Phoenix comic-book shops, also sadly no more. Stay tuned.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #7 (Oct. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #7 (Oct. 1980), by Michael Nasser.

“Tomorrow or Yesterday” (17 pages)
Scripter: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Mike Nasser
Inker: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Ray Burzon
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Mike Nasser

There’s a lot to like in this issue, which reads like a comic-book equivalent of a TV episode. It’s all done in one, and has all the basics of a standard TV story, with an A plot involving Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the planet, and a complementary B plot with Scotty and the ship.

Tom DeFalco does a nice job on the scripting end. This reads very much like a classic TV episode, even if it doesn’t always make a ton of sense. The pencils by Mike Nasser (now known as Mike Netzer), opens up the panels to tell the story and brings some dynamism an visual splash to the proceedings. Klaus Janson’s inks give Nasser’s pencils continuity with the previous issues, while the colors and letters are suitably well done enough to not be noticeable. There’s no fancy use of color holds here — just solid work.

Solid scripting by Tom DeFalco on this splash page. The title is pretty much lifted from the original series episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” which was one of the better first-season shows.

So this one starts off with the Enterprise heading to a section of the galaxy threatened by a cloud of Vega radiation. Kirk is to find and help any threatened populated planets by evacuating the threatened populations until the cloud passes. This is all conveyed rather nicely via “Captain’s Log” narration captions on the splash page, setting up the story quickly and clearly.

Page two is a good example of how this comic recreates the feel of the original show. Nasser starts with a large, irregularly shaped panel that gives a good view of the bridge crew and their urgency in discovering a small group of 200 intelligent life forms living on Andrea IV, right in the path of the Vega cloud We get a nice closeup of Kirk as he delivers a line that would come straight of the show and is easy to hear being spoken by William Shatner.

Page 2. A good example of how to hook your readers with solid layouts and scripting.

Pages three and four get the plot going even more quickly, with more transporter shenanigans (acknowledged this time with footnote from Louise Jones), and taking the transporter off the board as a deus ex machina solution to the crew’s problems.

Then things get weird, as the aliens show up and state they have been awaiting the Enterprise’s arrival for a very long time. I really dig Nasser’s design of the alien for its unusual graphic look, even as it’s unclear how a thing like that could move about in any useful way. I have to say it’s a nice lettering effect to give the Andreans a script style in their dialog balloons.

Again, Nasser does a fine job keeping things dynamic with good layouts and a really interesting alien design of the type you could only do in the comics at this time.

Pages six and seven are both very solid, with the former revealing that the Andreans have build massive statues of Kirk, Spock and McCoy that is a great shocker and would be an ideal spot for a commercial break if this was a TV episode. Page seven fades back in with Spock revealing the statues to have been built some 24,000 years ago. It’s a great panel that actually shows the characters — something the small-box layouts seen so far in the series have been unable to deliver. Kirk asks the lead Andrean what’s going on, but he’s about to “step beyond.”

Another nice page with interesting layouts in service to a good story point. I like the alien hand breaking the panel and the reaction shots of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Coming back from the commercial break, Nasser again gives us a nice big look at the heroes with that lead establishing panel. The dialog moves things along well, too. This stands out in contrast to the extremely boxy layouts and small drawings seen so far in the series of the lead characters, who are really the main draw to all of this stuff.

Now we spend a couple pages on plot, with McCoy explaining the Andreans are dying, and the Andreans denying any danger from the Vega radiation — because they know that Kirk et. al are “the protectors.” Kirk and company do their best to persuade the Andreans to evacuate, but they refuse because of their complete belief in the belief that the protectors will be save them. Spock comes up with a long-shot possible solution in which very precise phaser strikes by the Enterprise could disperse the Vega radiation. Kirk says they’ll go for it, but the transporter is still out. So Kirk orders Scotty to disperse the cloud and come back.

I really like this layout, with the mirrored effect in panels 1 and 3 at the top of the page, with Kirk’s changing expression, and then again at the bottom. I should say that Janson’s inks are, as always, very polished.

Unable to help Scotty, Kirk follows a hunch of Spock’s that leads them to discover a massive solar collector, which their Andrean host tells them is one of many on the planet. Again, taking a page from TV pacing, McCoy tells Kirk he’s made a major discovery without explaining what it is.

Meanwhile, Scotty leads the crew as they try to disperse the Vega radiation, which doesn’t work and strands the Enterprise without warp capability and they put everything they’ve got into the deflectors to try to shield themselves from the approaching cloud. Back on the planet, McCoy tells Kirk that one of the Andreans is evolving at a fantastic rate, which is what the aliens mean by “stepping beyond.” A doorway in the base of the giant statues opens to admit the transitioning alien, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy follow.

Another nice example of showing the characters up close and large as a way to bring some dynamism to the proceedings. By the way, Scotty injured his hands in the earlier transporter accident.

Here we get some more interesting art, as the passage reveals a massive underground complex. Spock mind melds with the Andrean, and gets enough information from it to relay that this species is always in evolutionary flux and can see all periods of time simultaneously. They prepared for the Vega cloud accordingly by building the solar collectors to amass the energy needed to disperse the cloud, and knew that Spock would figure all this out in time to push the activation button and save the day for the Andreans and the Enterprise.

So here’s the underground complex under the statues, as well as Spock’s mind meld. I like the extreme perspective in panel 1 to give this a sense of scale. The rest of it’s a bit compressed, but still clear.

The tale ends with a cryptic, almost pun-like observation from Spock about how he would love to ponder this paradox “… if only I had the time.”

The story concludes with more nice layouts. I like that panel of Spock for its expressiveness and the steady point of view of the final three panels playing against the pun-like concluding dialog.

All in all, a decent issue. You know this because the obvious criticisms are all more about the story itself than how it was executed. The book looks good — or as good as a comic like this could look in 1980 — and the story does evoke the style of the old TV show. But like too many episodes, the aliens are never fleshed out or made to be interesting in any way, even though we’re told that their intelligence far outstrips even Spock’s. The Vega cloud also is really not developed as a specific idea that has any kind of scientific credibility.

There’s a letter’s page in this issue, though no great revelations this time from editor Louise Jones. She does say that every issue of the comic is scrutinized and approved by Gene Roddenberry, and gives co-plotting credit on issue #5 to Denny O’Neil.

I think if Marvel had started off the comic with an issue like this one it would have earned more attention from fans. But coming out as it did in the summer of 1980, its thunder was stolen by the excitement among sci-fi fans surrounding The Empire Strikes Back, and by the Dark Phoenix saga in X-Men among comics readers and Marvel fans.

This issue was later reprinted in Marvel’s second paperback collection of Star Trek comics, the first having collected the movie adaptation. It also included issues #11 and #12, so I’ll talk about that after getting through the original issues in the run.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #4 (July 1980)

Star Trek (Marvel) #4 (July 1980). Cover by Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson.

“The Haunting of Thallus!” (17 pages)
Cover:
Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson (signed)
Script/Edits: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Dave Cockrum
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Carl Gafford
Letters: Jim Novak
Consulting Editor: Jim Shooter

Marvel’s first original Star Trek story is action packed, full of surprises and features much improved art from the movie adaptation. So, of course, this was writer and editor Marv Wolfman’s last issue on the title, which from this point on struggled to find a consistent creative team or direction for itself despite contributions from numerous talented creators.

Raytag escapes as soon as he’s beamed aboard.

Storywise, this issue starts off with a rare teaser splash page of the Enterprise encountering a haunted house in space. The actual story starts on page two, with Kirk and Spock receiving a new mission from Admiral Fitzpatrick (no clue why they didn’t use Admiral Nogura, already established as Kirk’s superior officer) to transport a “totally insane!” prisoner back to the prison he escaped from on the planet Thallus. Overly humble Regulan Ambassador R’kgg is to accompany them on this mission, which goes off the rails as soon as the prisoner, Raytag M’gora, is beamed aboard and escapes.

All this happens by the end of page three, so the pacing is already much ramped up from the sullen pace of the movie and its adaptation.

A nice example of the improved writing and art in Star Trek #4.

The next three pages feature the Enterprise crew trying to recapture Maytag, who’s escaped into the engine pylon structures and fended off attempts by security and Kirk to stop him. Since Raytag is like a bat and “sees” with sonar, they broadcast a “sonic backlash” to distract him long enough for Spock to deliver a nerve pitch.

Crewmembers “forming friendships”.

That taken care of, the Enterprise then receives new rendezvous coordinates from Thallus and obligingly changes course. Meanwhile, a pair of crewmen “forming friendships” in their cabin are attacked by and fend off a werewolf, and Chekov and Sulu see a ghost on the recreation deck.

Raytag tries to convince Kirk not to return him to Thallus and suggests that the Enterprise will become as trapped as he will be. Approaching the rendezvous, Dracula appears on the bridge and trounces a couple of guards before turning into a bat and vanishing into the turboshaft. He’s next spotted on C-Deck where a crewman fired at Dracula and Ambassador R’kgg is found dead with puncture wounds on his neck.

This is classic Cockrum — the woman’s pose, the alien, and the circular inset. Nice stuff.

The Enterprise arrives at its rendezvous to find the floating haunted house teased on page one. Raytag warns Kirk that he and his crew are now also prisoners of Thallus.

There’s more action on this page than in all of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Beaming over, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a couple of crew members (they don’t wear red shirts anymore, but they’re definitely in the same category) find an elaborate reproduction of a haunted house with spider webs, dust and a storm brewing outside. They hear a scream and rush in to find Frankenstein’s monster choking a young woman. Kirk knocks it out the window and a whole slew of horror monsters appear around them. Among them is a critter who looks an awful lot like Marvel’s Man-Thing.

Check out Man-Thing at right in the bottom panel.

The girl says they’ve been holding her prisoner here as long as she can remember. Bones suggests they bail, but then a a crew of Klingons appear and its commander saying there is no escape.

The last page shows a Klingon ship arriving to inform the Enterprise it has entered Klingon space and its landing party has been captured. Meanwhile, Raytag laughs at this madness as he sits in the brig.

This issue features a letters page that provides some hints at what’s going on with the publishing of the title. First, it lists not Marv Wolfman as editor, but Louise Jones. There are few responses to letters, but she does explain in in answer to a letter from Sim Parks of Swansea, S.C., a bit about the rights situation vis a vis the original series.

More adaptations of novels and short stories aren’t in the cards right now, Sim, mainly because Marvel only has the rights to adapt the movie and do new material based the movie. As yet, we have no rights involving the TV shows or other Star Trek material. Nevertheless, we hope to do stories that you enjoy … even if they are brand new. Let us know if we’re on the right track, okay?

Louise Jones, Star Trek: The Letters Page, Star Trek (1980) #4.

Wolfman’s story echoes a tactic the original series used to save money: set the story somewhere that looks a lot like a standing set you’d find on a TV studio lot in the late 20th century. Wolfman does a good job of packing a lot of story into this issue and using the dialog effectively to indicate character and make clear who’s who and what they’re doing. The mystery connecting the haunted house, the Klingons and Raytag is built up well enough to be a convincing reason for a Trek fan to come back and see how it plays out in the next issue.

For the art, this story plays so much better to Cockrum’s strengths as an artist. Most fans recall him for his amazing character designs, but he also had a real flair for action sequences that really shows here. Assuming he and Wolfman worked Marvel-style, the top-notch pacing of the story and the effective storytelling that gets a lot of information across comes down to Cockrum’s pencils. More of Cockrum’s flair comes through Janson’s inks, which works to the benefit of the story, even if I still think it’s a less-than-ideal match that fails to convey the sleek, modern look of the movie.

The cover, however, is not effective at conveying the story inside as a Star Trek story. The Enterprise is small and obscured through a window, while Kirk and McCoy have their backs to the camera. Spock looks good, but he’s too small and the jokey nature of the image not something that would have appealed as much to Trek fans, I think. It looks like a rejected monster comic cover that had a couple Trek elements pasted in to work for this series.

This issue was the unexpected final issue for Wolfman, who did not return to plot the conclusion in issue #5. As mentioned previously, Wolfman had been editor in chief at Marvel for a short while around 1975-76, and when he passed that title on he carved out a writer-editor deal that allowed him to run the projects he worked on himself with little or no oversight. That approach changed when Jim Shooter took over as editor in chief in 1978. Shooter realized that the single editor approach for a line of comics as numerous as Marvel’s was unworkable and began hiring a team of editors to each work on a reasonable number of titles. He also did not think writers should edit themselves, and refused to renew the writer-artist deals. As they expired, the writers who had them — Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Gerry Conway and now Wolfman — all left Marvel for DC Comics.

Wolfman’s departure from Marvel was bad news for Star Trek, but very quickly resulted in him pairing with artist George Perez to create The New Teen Titans, one of the most iconic, best-selling and critically acclaimed superhero titles of the 1980s. So that worked out.

New Shooter hires Louise Jones and Denny O’Neil stepped in to fill the gap on issue #5, with Jones taking over Star Trek as her own title the following issue. It’s interesting to note that Jones, who was then very new to Marvel, was at the same time taking over X-Men from editor Jim Salicrup amid the climax of the Dark Phoenix saga under somewhat tense conditions. Not sure that it had an effect on Star Trek going forward, but it sure didn’t help.

Notes: Coover, Brokeback Pose, Fatale, Movies and the Cover of the Year

Some links of note:

  • Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter does a very enjoyable interview with Colleen Coover, whose work I particularly liked on the short stories in X-Men: First Class (the comic, not the movie) as well as in Banana Sunday
  • Here’s a hilarious Tumblr account from The Beat called The Brokeback Pose, devoted to all those cover shots of scantily clad heroines twisting in just the right way to show off all their assets in two dimensions.
  • As long as we’re talking about women comics characters, you could do a lot worse than to track down the few issues that made it out of Broadway Comics’ Fatale. I recall it was a good series that was getting better, but in the free-fall sales era of the mid-1990s, quality was rarely a factor in determining which companies and titles stuck. Jim Shooter talks about the creation of that series on his must-read blog here.
  • Roger Ebert explains the decline in moviegoing is due to high ticket and concession prices, an increasingly annoying moviegoing experience, and the poor quality of most movies. I can’t dispute any of those, and think the price and quality issues also affect comics much the same way. 
  • Artist Dave Johnson does a great job on his blog of running down the good and the bad in each week’s batch of comic book covers. Now he’s picked his cover of the year, the super-cool Joker image Jock created for Detective Comics #880. 

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