“Domain of the Dragon God!” (17 pages) Writer: Michael Fleisher Artists: Leo Duranona and Klaus Janson Letterer: Rick Parker Colorist: Carl Gafford Editor: Louise Jones Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter Cover: Frank Miller and Gene Day
“From the Files of Starfleet Command Headquarters” (5 pages) Artist: Dave Cockrum
Based on the page count, this must have been an inventory story commissioned before Marvel raised its page count starting with issues cover-dated September 1980.
I’m not too familiar with the creative crew on this issue: Micheal Fleisher was best known for his work at DC on characters like Jonah Hex and The Spectre. Leo Duranona was from Argentina and worked in the 1970s on comics stories for the Warren line of magazines before working as a storyboard artist in animation and returning to comics in the 1990s to do some Predator work at Dark Horse. Janson, as finisher/inker on this issue, makes it look consistent with Marvel’s other Star Trek comics.
This starts with the Enterprise orbiting Barak-7 to investigate the strange properties of its magnetic fields. The fields make it impossible to transport to the surface or use communicators. Kirk is recovering from the flu, so Spock and McCoy take it upon themselves to head up the short surface survey needed to complete their mission. Of course, the engine filters get clogged and the engines overheat, forcing the shuttlecraft to land. Thanks, Obama!
Spock says he can unclog the filters, while McCoy spots a tribe of primitive humanoids who are about to sacrifice a young woman by tossing her into a pool of hideous reptile creatures. McCoy wants to help her; Spock says they can’t violate the prime directive.
The girl breaks free and runs for the hills — right into Spock and McCoy. The tribesmen attack and the officers defend themselves with phasers set on stun. Spock decides to hold off the attack so McCoy and the girl can escape. Spock is soon overwhelmed by their numbers and captured.
Meanwhile, McCoy gets a history from the girl, whose name is N’Shulu. She say her brother and his followers are trying to destroy the evil ruler Ragnok, whose minions were the ones who just captured Spock.
Spock meets Ragnok, who sentences him to work as a slave shaping a mountain into a likeness of Ragnok. Back on the Enterprise, Kirk is worried for two thirds of a page.
Spock makes friends and enemies by showing the workers how they can use leverage to lift large rocks more easily. A fight breaks out and Spock gets clubbed.
McCoy meets N’Shulu’s brother, K’Barrgh, and decides the only way to save Spock is to teach these people how to fight. So he creates a bow and arrow and shows them how to use archery to attack from a distance.
Now Kirk is really getting worried, taking a whole page this time asking the crew to find ways to contact Spock and McCoy.
Back on Barak-7, K’Barrgh’s people attack with arrows, and K’Barrgh defeats Ragnok in battle to become the new leader of both tribes. Spock and McCoy are reunited, though disappointed to find out that K’Barrgh’s first act is remake the mountain visage of his defeated foe into a tribute to his own.
The tribes all turn on McCoy and Spock, who make a break for it and are rescued by the arrival of Kirk in a shuttle modified to not get its engine filters clogged. He picks up his pals and they pass the mountain visage of Ragnok as they head back to the Enterprise.
This is the least interesting story to date in Marvel’s version of Star Trek. It offers very little in terms of plot, character or action. The art by Duranona and Janson is solid and professional, but lacks excitement and drama. This issue is so bland that it’s hard even to make fun of it.
The last five pages of this issue include some rather nice model sheets by artist Dave Cockrum that explains the various uniforms and their markings worn by the Enterprise crew. Cockrum did lots of sheets like this, and his “How to Draw the X-Men” series is like a master class in the art form. These are similarly useful and interesting for the level of detail put into the drawings and explanations.
There is a truncated letters page in this issue with a few short missives from fans and responses from Mike W. Barr, whose involvement in the series at this point is a mystery as even he writes that Martin Pasko is the regular scripter. The only bit of note is that one letter mentions a Spock reference to Sherlock Holmes, which Barr says he wrote in with the consent of editor Louise Jones and artist Dave Cockrum because it made sense that the Vulcan and the detective would be kindred spirits. This kind of foreshadows the more explicity Trek-Holmes connection with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Lastly, the best part of the whole issue is arguably the cover. Frank Miller and Gene Day make a solid pairing and the cover copy promising “Spock — The Barbarian!” makes a great sales hook. Even the colors are nice, with the purple background, though the light yellow in the logo fails to pop as well as it could have.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“The Enterprise Murder Case!” (17 pages) Writer: Mike W. Barr Artists: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson Letterer: Rick Parker Colorist: Carl Gafford Editor: Louise Jones Editor in chief: Jim Shooter Cover: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson “Historian First Class”: Marian Stensgard
This one hurt my brain. The splash page for this one is pretty good for a Star Trek comic: Kirk and Spock rushing to Lt. Rand in the transporter room, where something appears to be going wrong with the beaming up of an important ambassador. I especially like on this page the color hold effect of the transporter, which uses the limitations of the printing technology to good effect. Less impressive is the rather pointless “computer paper” effect on the captain’s log captions. In 1980, that might have seemed futuristic, but anyone who had to use that kind of paper will tell you what a pain it was to remove neatly those perforated side sprockets.
The real problem with this image, though, is that it’s lifted almost directly from the movie. Another transporter accident? Really?
When they pull the transportee through, it turns out that Ambassador Phral is dead, thanks to a dagger that apparently found its way into his back during transport.
That’s a decent premise for a Star Trek story, I’ll admit. I just wish the rest of the issue had lived up to its potential.
The captions reveal the setup for this issue: Kirk is to ferry Ambassador Phral from his home planet of Yannid IV to a ceremony admitting the planet to the Federation, essentially a defeat for its rival, the Klingon Empire. But the death of the ambassador is, clearly, a problem. Especially when it’s revealed that Phral was dead for 10 minutes before appearing on the Enterprise — impossible given he was alive just moments before the transport, which did experience some unusual interference.
Spock, by the way, has this plot figured out by the end of page three. The rest of us have 14 more pages to endure.
Throughout all this, Kirk is more on-edge than normal – snapping at crew members and living up to his lower-decks nickname, “Kirk the Jerk (Off).” There’s a bunch of exposition setting up a subplot for the captain that almost completely crowds the art off the page.
Meanwhile, Sulu, Chekov and Chief DiFalco are boozing it up on Yannid IV and get into a classic bar fight. Barr’s narration is blunt and appears ripped from the pages of a prohibitionist group. I’m not sure if Sulu, et. al, are escaping via beam-up the swords of the Yannidians or the captions.
After a cursory appearance from Admiral Fitzpatrick (who looks like he was originally Commander Adama cut and pasted from Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica comic), Kirk comes clean to McCoy and Spock about his past screw-ups on Yannid IV.
Finally, we get a cool page as Cockrum gets to conjure up some of the wacky space machinery and costumes he did much better in X-Men. We also get to see a tantalizing glimpse of young Kirk, wearing the old green sweater uniforms seen only in the original Trek pilots, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” There’s also an original phaser! Yay, Original Series!
Kirk’s version of what happened is that he was an ensign just out of Starfleet Academy, leading an away team into a war on Yannid IV. The pro-Federation King Geror had been killed by pro-Klingon forces that also had captured the king’s son, Prince Arlph. Kirk led a landing party to find the prince and succeeded in liberating him, although a into the fray and rescue Prince Arlph — without casualties. It worked, except a warning shot Kirk fired ricocheted unexpectedly and put Prince Arlph into a coma. Arlph’s brother became king and blamed Kirk, as did Arlph when he came out of his coma, changed his name to Pharl and became the ambassador who died in the transporter accident. Starfleet, of course, exonerated Kirk. That’s a lot to convey in less than two pages, so it’s a lot of cranky copy supported by Cockrum doing his damnedest to make it work.
There’s also signs of just plain crap. Arlph and Phral are both anagrams of Ralph. Geror is one for Roger. And Storf is one for Frost. I don’t know what the anagram is for Yannid, but I assume there is one. Barr is not exactly pulling a Marc Okrand on this one. It pulls me out, because as soon as I realized this, I couldn’t help but read Arlph and Phral as Ralph and Geror as Roger.
Spock comes up with a theory of what happened, and pulls out some really lame proof that apparently so discombobulated Cockrum that he couldn’t keep track of who he was drawing in a single panel.
The rest of the comic is about solving the mystery — something it does in the most comic-book-y fashion imaginable. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down in disguise — in this case, that means pirate costumes, “purpleface” makeup (Prince would love it), tails, and some really bad hairdos and facial hair.
It’s here that Spock reveals his deep affection for Calgary Flames icon Lanny McDonald. Don’t listen to me — decide for yourselves!
The trio tracks down a clue leading to “Doctor Loroc,” who’s a female plastic surgeon, and gets shot in her third panel. The idiocy continues as Spock et. al deduce the real killer has changed his appearance and is one of three aliens in the clinic.
In classic Trek fashion, Spock’s bluff exposes — with the current leaders of Yannid VI now assembled in the room — the ambassador and how they subbed the dead body for his during mid-transport. The exposed Phral grabs a weapon and holds the princess hostage. Bones, once again, thinks fast and stabs Phral with a hypo spray conveniently loaded with “the most potent knockout drug I’ve got!”
The grateful Yannid VI leaders agree to sign the Federation treaty and hang out on the Enterprise for a few days before beaming home.
Strangely enough, this is all done in 16 pages — leaving a real clunker of a final page for Kirk, Spock and Bones to tease each other before the ship finally warps off past more overwritten copy and on to the next issue.
The creative team on this issue was clearly attempting to compress a story as complex as a full episode of the original series into a mere 17 pages. And it really doesn’t work, especially when the plot is as underdeveloped and overwrought as this one.
Cockrum and Janson are clearly not meshing any better. This issue struggles to find moments where the art can shine, and way too often has to rely on color effects to get any kind of “wow” factor into the mix.
The covers are an obvious problem for this series. This issue’s cover — marred, as were all Marvel comics that month — with an ad promoting a contest for fans as a way to apologize for raising the price to 50 cents, is just plain awful. Again, there’s an apparent aversion to putting Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the cover in favor of a not-great rendering of the inanimate object kn0wn as the U.S.S. Enterprise. And the bit with Ambassador Ralph, I mean Phral, evokes old DC Comics but lacks any kind of visual hook for the story inside.
This issue also features a letters page, with no great revelations from editor Louise Jones. However, at the bottom of the page is “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” of comics on sale this month, at least two of which are stone-cold classics: Star Wars #39, the first episode of Marvel’s adaptation of “The Empire Strikes Back,” by Archie Goodwin, Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon; and the double-size X-Men #137, featuring the final fate of Phoenix, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin.
“The Haunting of the Enterprise!” Writer: Mike W. Barr, with plot assist from Denny O’Neil Artists: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson Letterer: John Costanza Colorist: Carl Gafford Editors: Denny O’Neil & Louise Jones Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter Cover: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
With Marv Wolfman gone, Mike W. Barr and Denny O’Neil step in to wrap up the tale started last issue, with inauspicious results.
The issue starts off with the Klingons vaporizing a Starfleet Ensign with a phaser, prompting Kirk to do the same to one of the Klingons. During the brawl, Spock is knocked out with a chair to the head and taken captive by the Klingons as the shields go down and both sides beam back from the haunted house to their respective ships.
Spock learns from his captors that they are interested in the new warp engines on the Enterprise and they have a secret weapon to use. On the Enterprise, Raytag hints the girl from the haunted house knows what’s going on, though she denies it.
Monsters begin appearing throughout the Enterprise, terrorizing the crew. Bones does a scan of the girl and finds something unusual.
Spock learns the Klingons encountered a damaged starship weeks ago and found as the sole survivor a “horror film archivist.” To earn his willing cooperation, they create a “construct” of his dead wife. The Klingons then put him in a new “thought-enhancer” machine, which tapped into his brain and brought to life the monsters in his dreams.
More monsters plague the Enterprise as the plot treads water, while Spock get close enough to the film archivist to mind meld with him and project a warning to the Enterprise to kill the girl. Bones figures out she’s made of the same stuff as the monsters and is therefore not real, so he pulls out his phaser and disintegrates her.
Meanwhile, Raytag is revealed as being the receptor for the images on the Enterprise, and a sudden power surge kills him in the bring.
This wakes the film archivist, who unleashes his monsters on the Klingon vessel instead. Spock frees him and they transport back to the Enterprise and hightail it out of Dodge.
After dropping off the film archivist at Starbase 16, the Enterprise is off to its next mission.
So, any hope that the previous issue evoked in readers that this series was going to work were seriously shot down by this issue.
It’s easy to be too hard on Barr and O’Neil here, as they obviously came in at the last minute to plot their way out of a pretty odd setup. But their solution just treads water and meets only the minimum standards for resolving this story.
The “film archivist” bit is the weakest — neither he nor the image of his dead wife get even a name in this issue. The Klingons also appear to be the dumbest creatures in the galaxy if this is their plan for getting intel on the new Starfleet engines. Bones deciding in the course of a panel to phaser the girl into oblivion is seriously out of character, while Spock is reduced to a source of exposition and Kirk just shoots things with his phaser. There’s little charm and even less humor in this tale, which clearly sprouted from Wolfman’s real affection for old movie monsters. Also, Raytag’s story goes nowhere, and the death of the ambassador from last issue has no impact or part to play in the story’s conclusion.
The art veers away from Cockrum shining through to being more about Janson’s finishes, and their styles just don’t gel here. There is not much action of interest in this story and little room for the visual storytelling to explore the idea of monsters in space in any interesting way. The lettering and coloring also were off this issue – the splash page alone is an impossible-to-read assault on the eyes.
The cover, at least, is an improvement — no surprise considering it’s penciled by Frank Miller. This issue came out several months before Daredevil #168 introduced Elektra to the world, but you can see Miller moving that direction with his femme fatale composition and the classical look of the nameless girl’s sandals. Again, though, Kirk and McCoy are small on the cover and the ghostly image of Spock gets a bit lost in the purple on purple color hold. Perhaps another color would have worked better.
Wrapping up this issue is a letters page with answers from Barr, who was obviously slated to take over regular writing on the series. No real revelations this time, but Barr shows real enthusiasm for Star Trek comics that will really come to benefit readers only after the license moves to DC Comics.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stan Lee wrote in one of his Stan’s Soapbox columns in the 1970s that Marvel had been very interested in getting the rights to do a Star Trek comic book, but that they were all tied up. Western Publishing and its Gold Key Comics line started publishing Star Trek comics in 1967 and retained the license throughout the 1970s as the show’s popularity soared in syndication and its fandom was in full blossom.
As with many things, the success of Star Wars changed the expectations for what a space property could be. George Lucas and company had targeted Marvel for a Star Wars adaptation and had to be pretty persuasive to get them to agree to the project. Of course, the Star Wars comic famously was a huge hit and all by itself propelled Marvel to profitability the year it came out. Its success spawned lots of imitations, with Marvel taking on Battlestar Galactica, adapting Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, of course, landing the rights to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Gold Key’s rights ended so abruptly that there exists a script for the unpublished Star Trek #62 that can easily be found online (or here). Gold Key managed to stay in the licensing game with licenses for The Black Hole, which ran a mere four issues, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which ran what looks like 15 issues. But Gold Key’s more child-oriented approach to comic-book storytelling was not to survive much longer; the company closed down completely in 1984.
Marvel seemed the ideal fit for Star Trek, and there was no shortage of professionals on staff at the publisher champing at the bit for a shot at the title. Among them were artist Dave Cockrum, acclaimed artist on DC’s futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes title, co-creator of Marvel’s New X-Men, and working at the time, I believe, on staff at Marvel as a cover designer; and Marv Wolfman, who had parlayed his 1975-76 stint as editor in chief into a writer-editor deal. It was under this deal that Wolfman headed up the adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the monthly comic book series that was to follow.
That seemed like an ideal team at the time for a top-tier comic book, especially when they were joined on inks by Klaus Janson, who had made a huge impact on comics as the finisher and inker on Frank Miller’s classic Daredevil run.
The Marvel Super Special series was an irregular line of color comics in magazine size, printed on nicer paper and selling for $1.50 and up. The first issue was an original The Beatles story and a big hit, but by the time it came to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it became the line for projects like movie adaptations that could sell to fans of the movie that don’t normally read comics. Marvel Super Special #15 includes the complete adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a single, 52-page story, along with supplemental material such as photos from the movie, an article on the Star Trek phenomenon, a glossary, and an interview with Jesco von Puttkamer, a NASA consultant on the production of the movie. The cover features a really nice painting by Bob Larkin. A facsimile edition of this magazine was published in 2019 by IDW in celebration of the movie’s 40th anniversary.
As was the norm at the time, Marvel was looking for new markets for its comics. With Star Wars, Marvel had a lot of success not just reprinting the original issues, but also in repackaging them into new formats, which included treasury editions and a black-and-white mass-market paperback size edition. The same approach was taken from the start with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with the Marvel Super Special edition coming out to coincide with the movie’s release, followed closely by the first issue of the regular Star Trek comic and a color mass-market paperback edition. All three featured the same content, with the regular comic book breaking the adaptation across three issues and the paperback edition reformatting the panels into a 144-page reading experience.
Production on the project was admittedly rushed. In a full-page article on the Star Trek comic series in Starlog #33 (April 1980), Wolfman and Cockrum admit to a difficult adaptation. Wolfman says he didn’t think much of the story and found the script inscrutable, making it difficult to do more than transcribe what they had received into comic book form. They had photo reference, but no idea what the effects – which were famously worked on until the very last minute — were going to look like. And Cockrum admits he had to work too fast, cranking out two pages a day, preventing him from giving the project his very best work.
Cockrum himself backs this up in an interview with Peter Sanderson in The X-Men Companion I, published in 1982 by Fantagraphics. Asked about his return to penciling X-Men in 1981 and which of the new issues was his favorite so far, Cockrum replied:
Sanders0n: Which issue is your favorite of the ones you’ve drawn, and why?
Cockrum: That’s hard to say too. I’ll tell you, in some respects I’m most pleased with #145, the first of my new ones, because it was like coming out of a tunnel into the daylight after the Star Trek crap and all that. I’m a Star Trek fan; I got the book because I asked for it, and there was nothing but garbage the whole time. [sighs]
Sanderson: Do you mean the stuff you did, or the writing, the limitations imposed by the Trek people?
Cockrum: No, no … For one thing, Klaus [Janson] and I don’t make a happy combination, I think. I like Klaus’s inking on other people but I don’t think it works on me. Most of the stories were dumb. The whole thing was a big flop, I thought …
The X-MEN COMPANION I, P. 78, FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS, INC., 1982.
Similarly, Marv Wolfman had this to say:
“The Marvel problem was deadlines. I had to write the entire adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was 64 pages, in less than a month. And that was without knowing a lot of what was going on inside it because the first movie was so late in the working that we flew out to Doug Trumbull’s and John Dykstra’s studios in August and they had yet to design half the major things which would be in the movie which was being released in December. Also Marvel’s deadlines were ridiculously tight because of the release dates. Dave Cockrum had to draw faster than I think he’s ever had to draw in his life, and I had to write it faster.”
Covers on the comic book version were drawn by Steve Leialoha (#1), Cockrum and Janson (#2) and Bob Wiacek (#3). There was another version of the cover to #2 drawn by Terry Austin that uses the same basic concept as the published version. Austin’s version was included as a pinup in the final issue of this series, #18.
None of the covers is terribly effective.
Leialoha delivers a movie-poster like image that has decent likenesses of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but its images of Decker and Ilia are soft looking and do little to really sell the book. Cockrum and Janson’s cover to #2 is the best of the lot, extrapolating a much more dynamic image of the V’ger probe’s incursion on the bridge. The coloring kills it though, making it hard to even figure out what you’re looking at. And Wiacek’s cover is just an image of the Enterprise firing photon torpedoes; generic, and likely pulled together at the last minute to meet a deadline.
The adaptation itself is, overall, serviceable. It follows the general plot and tone of the movie rather well, despite being unable to rely upon Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score. There are obvious attempts to give the art some technical flair via color holds. These work much better in the Marvel Super Special edition than in the regular comic book, which was printed on the then-standard newsprint. That said, there are a few spots where the newsprint edition looks better because of how the paper mutes some of the uses of more highly saturated tones.
The magazine format’s nice paper and larger size also gives some clarity to the artwork that brings out the details and helps it look better. Janson is a formidable artist who has always produced good work quickly and to high standards, but his rough style is a mismatch for the clean and slick look of the movie. Cockrum does an admirable job re-creating the likenesses of the actors, though his work on that aspect is inconsistent. And Marie Severin does a fantastic job on the colors, though as you’ll see production didn’t always serve them well.
Coloring a book like this is yet another challenge, given the muted grays, whites, slate blues and faded oranges used for the costumes and sets in the movie. The original Star Trek series at least had variations in the colors of the uniforms with black pants and boots that offered contrast. This version just comes across as muddled, especially on the newsprint page over Janson’s sketchy inking style.
Wolfman and Cockrum deserve credit for doing all they can to save the pacing and varying the visual storytelling enough to keep it from descending into complete boredom. I’d hate to see how some of the artists today would handle the endless discussions on the bridge and cruises through V’ger’s interior.
The comic book version adds new splash pages to issues #2 and #3 to catch up readers and provide credits for those issues. Nothing special, but it is two extra pages of art.
Much of the excitement surrounding the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture faded pretty quickly after its release. It was clear by Christmas 1979 that the movie wasn’t going to be a huge hit along the lines of Star Wars. It just didn’t tell the kind of story that inspired kids to play Star Trek and send their parents out to the stores in search of that great V’ger playset. (Although, if Roddenberry had his way, I’m sure the parents would be heading out to other kinds of toy stores to re-enact “forming friendships” in the bowels of the Enterprise … ugh.)
So with Marvel Super Special #15 coming out right around the movie, followed quickly in December 1979 by Star Trek #1, that puts the conclusion of the adaptation in February 1980 and the first original issue of the comic book in March 1980. By which time, the movie had already been largely ignored and forgotten, with everyone champing at the bit for the May release of The Empire Strikes Back (I know I was).
Add to that, the changes at Marvel and the restrictions that fans would soon learn applied to the book, and the new comic book series was already seriously behind the eightball.