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Comics Letters Pages, Part 2

Cover to Avengers #289
The cover to Avengers #289 (March 1988). Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer.

It was 1985 when I returned to comics reading and collecting. I still dug the comics letters pages.

The letters in Marvel’s Star Wars series — the book that got me into the hobby — were solid. I remember seeing in issue #103 that the next issue was coming in 60 days, instead of the usual 30. I thought it was a typo. The two month wait revealed the book’s schedule had been demoted to bimonthly. Not long after that, the series was canceled.

I also read V, which DC published based on the TV miniseries and then regular series. The original miniseries was terrific, and the followup, V: The Final Battle, was five-sixths great — the ending left a lot to be desired. The weekly TV series was a disaster and put out of its misery after one season. But I really wanted the show to succeed and stuck with it. There was nothing else sci-fi related on TV. If you liked that stuff, V was it.

The comic book version ran 18 issues — long past the series’ cancellation. And it had its high points: The covers by Jerry Bingham were terrific. Carmine Infantino penciled the series and his art had many of the same qualities I had come to like from his Star Wars run. And the letters pages also were lively, with lots of fans writing in and good engagement from the editor, Bob Greenberger. More on him later.

Cover to X-Men Annual #10 (1986). Art by Arthur Adams.

I wrote one fannish letter to X-Men editor Ann Nocenti and writer Chris Claremont in autumn 1986, after we had moved to Arizona. I was trying to work out the continuity of the Mutant Massacre storyline, and where X-Men Annual #10 occurred in the run. I’m still not clear on that point, but I’m also glad they didn’t publish it.

A year later, I was a student at the University of Arizona. My initial major was general business, mostly because I had to pick something and had no idea what else to choose.

In Canada, I had been a strong science and math student. But my interest in those subjects was frustrated by the way they were taught at the Arizona high school where I finished my diploma, and in my freshman year at university.

I had intended to take calculus in high school in Alberta, but Arizona — to no one’s surprise — lacked that option. In university, it was taught in an auditorium with 600 freshmen. The weekly session with a teaching assistant was not helpful. Teaching my group was a thick accented man unskilled at — and apparently uninterested in — helping us make sense of the topic.

Buying a set of notes for the class from a local copy shop, I basically re-took the class at home in the last weeks before the final. I got an A, but none of it stuck, and I was already looking at other interests.

I enjoyed being a university student, and liked taking classes on topics as diverse as psychology, world literature, and military history. Few of the other students in my classes, however, seemed to have any real interest in learning about these things. They loved the social scene, but classes were merely tolerated. They were something to get through on the way to the degree and job that would afford them the flashy car they wanted. It was disheartening to see so many people just going through the motions and failing to take an interest of any kind in the amazing world we live in and the opportunity we had as students to learn so much about it.

I also had always liked current affairs, history, and politics. In school, we had studied the history and culture of Canada, obviously, but also places like Africa, India and China. We also studied the industrial revolution, the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Russian Revolution. Given the threat of global thermonuclear war, the latter fascinated me as much as it scared me. For more than a year after watching “The Day After,” I had to distract my mind with the radio to fall asleep each night.

At university, I took advantage of being a student to read lots of newspapers, magazines and books I had never had access to before. I often stayed up late to watch Nightline, with Ted Koppel. That was a great show, though I always wished he had more time to discuss things — an hour instead of a half.

All this inspired me to put more effort into my writing at college and the results were immediate — good grades and some very flattering compliments from teachers. That had never happened before. I also was really enjoying it, following topics down a rabbit hole and using the power of revision to refine ideas. It was at minimum very satisfying, and more often than not a lot of fun.

I also was reading as many comics as I could get my hands on. I was particularly fond of the X-Men titles and the writing of Chris Claremont. He had a strong style, but he also told complicated stories and defined his characters in ways other comics and books did not. I was a fan. It made me think that one day I could do something related to comics. Maybe.

I would read the Writer’s Market — a guide to publications that buy freelance work — in the university bookstore. It reported at the time that top talent at Marvel earned six-figure incomes. That seemed unreal to me.

But a career related to comics just didn’t seem like a viable goal. And certainly not a serious one you could confess in Tucson, Arizona, in 1987.

All of this came together in the pages of Avengers #289, which came out in November 1987. The book’s editor, Mark Gruenwald, had a series of columns he wrote, called Mark’s Remarks, that ran in the titles he edited. And in this one, he was talking about what it takes to be an editor at a company like Marvel. He wrote that comics require highly structured writing, like journalism. So knowing something about journalism was helpful. Read the whole thing here, especially section 3:

The Mark’s Remarks column from the letters page of Avengers #289.

That stuck with me. It definitely played a role in my decision to switch my major to journalism. It wasn’t the biggest or most important reason. I had noticed in reading so many publications of all types that the people who worked on them seemed to really enjoy what they did, and that they felt it was important and worthy work. And that seemed like the right reason to point myself in that direction.

That choice was the right one for me. And I’ll never forget that moment of clarity, of the fuse that led to that decision being lit by reading that column.

I never had a chance to meet Mark Gruenwald, who died unexpectedly at the age of 43, in 1996. But I owe him at least a thanks for some simple words of encouragement. It’s amazing what a little of that can do — most people hear so little of it.

Next: Writing letters that actually got printed!

Cover to Battlestar Galactica #22

Comics Letters Pages, Part 1

In the days before the internet, comics letters pages were important to fans. It was one of the few places you could connect with other fans and read what they thought about recent issues, the art, the quality of the writing, etc.

Letters pages also gave most fans their first insights into how comics are made and who made them.

I first read the letters columns in Marvel’s Star Wars comics starting sometime in 1978. Those comics were for a while one of the few Star Wars products available, and the only official new stories. I read and re-read those comics — and re-read them again.

I specifically remember reading the first arc with Archie Goodwin as writer and editor. It was issues #11-15 (May-Sept. 1978). The art was by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin. I bought each issue as it came out and loved it. It was the first time I read an extended story over multiple issues of a comic book and I was hooked.

Eventually, I noticed the letters pages, and read those, too. It was then that I began asking questions like, “Who’s Archie?” “Who’s Carmine?” “What’s an inker?” Discovering the credits finally clued me in that there were actual people writing and drawing these comics. And they were different. I had read the previous issues by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin, and I probably was even vaguely aware of having seen their names in the book. But it wasn’t until seeing the completely different outcome that Goodwin and Infantino brought to the comic that it became clear just how much impact the writer and artist had on a comic book.

Putting pen to paper

I remember only once writing a letter of my own. It was after reading Star Wars #26 (Aug. 1979), which had this really cool sequence where Luke Skywalker flies a stolen TIE Fighter into the gas giant Yavin to take out a hidden Imperial base. The story ruled, but Infantino’s art had become increasingly abstract. I’d looked at other comics with more conventional art styles and wanted the characters and ships in Star Wars to look a little more like they did in the movie.

Cover to Star Wars #26
Star Wars #26 (Aug. 1979). Cover art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

I have since changed my mind about Infantino’s art on Star Wars and love it unconditionally.

Being that into Star Wars at the time meant I was really down for Battlestar Galactica. In Canada, the pilot was shown in theaters months before it aired on TV. I saw it several times and was excited for it to become a TV show that would air every single week.

Of course, it also became a comic. A friend had the treasury version that came out with the movie release, but Marvel re-adapted it for the first three issues of its monthly comic series. The next two issues after that saw Walter Simonson draw an adaptation of “The Lost Planet of the Gods,” and it was better than the show. I read that comic for the next two years — long past the show’s cancelation — and in particular loved the issues Simonson drew. He later started to write the book as well, and it somehow got even better.

It was at the time a special thing for me — almost like the show hadn’t really gone away. Of course, that didn’t last.

I read on the letters page of Battlestar Galactica #22 (Dec. 1980) that the series “was not much longer for this world. Next issue will be the last.” I was bummed. And the next issue, #23, was indeed the last.

Shortly after that, I stopped reading comics — and letters pages — for a few years. When I resumed reading and collecting comics in the mid-1980s, the letters pages were still there to inspire.

More on that next time.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #14 (June 1981)

Cover to Star Trek #14
Cover to Star Trek #14. Art by Ed Hannigan and James Sherman.

“We Are Dying, Egypt, Dying!” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Luke McDonnell & Gene Day
Letters: John Morelli
Colors: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Parallel civilizations became a Star Trek cliche during the run of the original show. Episodes like “Who Mourns for Adonais?” “A Piece of the Action,” “Patterns of Force,” “Bread and Circuses,” and “Spectre of the Gun” established the convention firmly within the Star Trek premise.

Of course, the reason for doing this was obvious: It saved the production lots of money. Any time they could use stock sets or costumes instead of making new ones, the show saved money. Within the limitations of 1960s TV production, the show did as much as it could with this trope to good effect — mostly.

One of the advantages of doing any sci-fi or fantasy TV or movie property as a comic has always been that those restrictions were nonexistent. It costs just as much to make a comic with new costumes as it did anything else. In fact, it was probably easier, given that there was no need for the artists to research something vaguely accurate. They could just make it up.

But here we go again, anyways. This time, it’s ancient Egypt, and this comic is lot more fun if you imagine the Star Trek crew is raiding the wardrobe and sets of the 1963 classic Cleopatra — perhaps to avenge Star Trek alumna Joan Collins’ losing out on the lead part to Elizabeth Taylor.

Kirk strikes a pose, but Spock is not impressed.

The story starts off simply. The USS Enterprise arrives for the first time at Zeta Reticuli II, and discovers a civilization similar to that of ancient Egypt on Earth. A meteoroid shower composed of siderites will bombard the planet within two days. Made mostly of iron, they will strike the planet’s surface with catastrophic effect. The crew needs to warn the inhabitants of their impending doom — and save them, if possible.

All this is established in only two pages. It seems like today’s comics would spend half an issue on that. As Bill Clinton sort of said, it’s about economy, stupid!

The rapid storytelling continues as Kirk leads a landing party and discovers a burial chamber with statues of Khnum, the Egyptian god of creation, and lots of mummies.

Star Trek #14, Page 3
Bones has been working out! Plus, some solid telling of a pretty strange story. And that odd bit of Kirk’s finger just barely breaking the panel border is distracting to people like me who notice such things.

Of course, there’s technology behind the ancient gods, in the form of a powerfield! And then a giant statue comes to life — that’s comics for you. Kirk stumbles and grabs Khnum’s scepter and it transforms him according to an ancient prophecy. Again — that’s comics for you. The statue zaps some security guards while Chekov rants in transliteration of his accent while he, Uhura and Sulu manage to destroy it. But then, the transformed Kirk shows up.

Star Trek #14, Page 6
Solid art on this page, though not really consistent with the overall Star Trek look.
I especially like the last two panels.

Back on the ship, Spock and Scotty are tracking the meteoroids, and check in with the overdue Kirk. The captain, alas, is possessed by an ancient spirit and now wears a nemes. Spock and Scott notice the change.

But not as much as they notice down on the planet. Kirk announces he’s Menteptah II, descendant of the pharoahs, and he will to save his people from the death that comes from the sky.

I can’t help but read this page and think of how great it would have been on the original series to have William Shatner play Kirk as King Tut from the Batman TV series, a la “The Enemy Within.” It would have been epic on TV. But here, it’s pretty meh.

Star Trek #14, Page 8
Luke McDonnell and Gene Day obviously like McCoy. They give him lots of visual attention.

Kirk confiscates the communicators, but misses one that Bones collected from the killed security guard. While Kirk destroys what he thinks are all the communicators, Spock is slowly reaching the conclusion he needs to beam down to find out what’s happening on the surface.

And then it starts to get both weird and predictable. Kirk prays to a statue of Khnum, which responds in a voice I personally hear as the same as that of the Guardian of Forever from “City on the Edge of Forever” when I read it. He explains, in pure Erich von Daniken mode, that the people of Zeta Reticuli II originated on Earth and traveled across the galaxy on a spaceship and would one day return to their homeworld. Of course, it also evokes Jack Kirby’s work on The Eternals, etc.

Star Trek #14, Page 10
Very strange for Star Trek, but I rather like the inking on this page. It’s very 1970s, Terry Austin stuff.

So it turns out Khnum has chosen Kirk to lead the people of Zeta Reticuli II back to Earth. And if it hadn’t started to unravel by now, the story is definitely unraveling now. Spock gets through to the communicator McCoy took from the security and receives a call for help. So of course, McCoy gets caught and Spock beams down to the planet to help — all by himself.

Meanwhile, Kirk takes Uhura as his “queen.” This is not explained. But they take the now-captured McCoy to join the other landing party members, who are laying on stone slabs with intravenous contraptions that infuse them all with the “Elixir of Obedience.”

Right.

Star Trek #14, Page 14
Comics are sometimes produced in a rush that doesn’t bring out the best work from creators. This page might qualify, based on that terrible version of the Enterprise in panel two and what seems like off anatomy in panel four.

Spock arrives and hears from Scotty that a beam from the pyramid is shrinking the Enterprise, but not its crew. That means everything’s becoming more intimate by the second — and Kirk’s not there to enjoy it! Also, wouldn’t the air pressure increase to the point that people would be crushed?

Spock and Kirk fight it out, while McCoy slips free and makes the ensorcelled Uhura take him to his medical kit — so he can giver her a shot of cordrazine that returns her to normal. Of course, there’s only one drug anyone remembers from Star Trek, and that’s cordrazine. Thank you, Harlan Ellison.

Cramming this much story on one page is a sure sign of an overstuffed plot.

Spock breaks free of Kirk’s death grip long enough to grab a phaser and take out the statue of Khnum. Kirk’s now free, but the ship is still shrinking, and McCoy has freed the rest of the landing party.

At this point, not much sense remains of the plot. Whatever decent ideas it once may have contained are now just tossed out for any reason that will wrap this up by page 22.

Star Trek #14, Page 19
Bring out your dead!

It’s mummy time. The mummies were actual aliens in suspended animation and they come to life to attack the infidel invaders. This scene reminds me of a much better comic, X-Men #56 (May 1969), the first issue of that series with art by the great Neal Adams.

Giants on one side, a shrinking ship on the other! Who doesn’t love this?

Of course, Spock looks at the alien technology and figures out how to reverse the ray affecting the Enterprise, while Kirk “reprises” his role as Menteptah II to get the mummies to stand down.

At long last, page 22 arrives. The landing party beams up, the Enterprise destroys the approaching asteroids and a lame joke from McCoy at Spock’s expense wraps up yet another weak issue of Star Trek.

Star Trek #14, Page 22
At least the Enterprise isn’t massively deformed on this page.

This issue sports a letters column, with several missives complimenting the improved artwork on issue #11, and more than a few complaining about the high prevalence of Star Trek cliches in each issue. (They’re not going to find much improvement by this issue.) There’s no reply from editor Louise Jones, who bows out with this issue to focus on more successful Marvel titles, like The Uncanny X-Men and Star Wars.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #13 (April 1981)

Star Trek #13 Cover
Cover to Star Trek #13 (April 1981). Cover art by James Sherman and Larry Hama.

“All the Infinite Ways” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Joe Brozowski & Tom Palmer, and “D. Hands”
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colors: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The final monthly issue of the series focuses on one of the better-known bits of apocrypha from the original series: Dr. McCoy’s daughter, Joanna.

The idea originated way back in the days of the original series. According to writer D.C. Fontana, she proposed to DeForest Kelley the idea of McCoy having a son. Kelley suggested a daughter, instead, and Fontana added it to the series bible. She named her Joanna and established that she is a nurse.

In 1968’s The Making of Star Trek, series creator Gene Roddenberry stated plans for an episode featuring Joanna in the third season. You can read a synopsis of Fontana’s story here. Joanna was originally one of the “space hippies” in what became “The Way to Eden,” but that was lost in revisions.

She almost got a reference in an episode of the animated series, and was frequently mentioned in Star Trek fan publications for decades to come despite never appearing in an episode or movie.

Writer Marty Pasko, as a serious Star Trek fan, obviously read about Joanna and somehow got permission to incorporate her into this issue of the Marvel series.

Marvel’s familiar touch

The story starts in the typical way: The Enterprise has arrived at Hephaestus, a neutral resort planet blessed with plenty of dilithium and pergium. Kirk’s job is to negotiate a mining treaty with the inhabitants, who are intelligent and peaceful simians. But Klingon Commander Kagg is here to counter the Federation’s offer.

Star Trek #13, Page 1
It’s difficult to start a Star Trek comic without doing a “ship orbiting the planet with Captain’s Log summary,” but this at least looks good. The art team does a good job of solid storytelling with that nice polished Tom Palmer finish.

A resort planet means there’s a chance for shore leave and lots of wealthy species from all over the galaxy hanging out to enjoy the spa. Among them is a Vulcan ambassador named Suvak, and his companion, Joanna.

StarTrek13-Page2
At last, we see Joanna.

Of course, this means there’ll be conflict. And Sulu and Chekov immediately find themselves in a melee between a Klingon and one of the Hephaestans.

Star Trek #13, Page 4
That spa looks awful. Chekov’s accent is always strange in print.

Joanna approaches her father, who is surprised and thrilled to see her. She’s less excited, and tries to pull away. She’s engaged to Ambassador Suvak, and Bones is not exactly happy to learn his daughter plans to marry a blasted Vulcans.

A Star Trek family affair

For most of page 7, McCoy and Joanna have it out. Of course, he was an absent father who spent most of his time on starships exploring distant planets instead of being with her. Right at the key moment, of course, Suvak falls over ill.

Star Trek #13, Page 7
A good example of an emotional scene told with concise and dynamic art. Also, I love the way older comics artists drew women. Yeah, they cried too much, but they were pretty and their faces always expressive.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Kagg argue over who killed the Hephaestan. They head to the clinic to determine the cause of death and find McCoy and his daughter tending to Suvak. Bones tells Kirk that Nurse McCoy is no relation because according to her she has no father.

Chimps with chips?

McCoy finds a chip implanted in the neck of the dead Hephaestan that he deduces means the intelligent simians are symbionts. Caught in their lie, the Hephaestans explain an alien race visited them thousands of years ago and gave them intelligence through such implanted chips. They make the chips in a secret location and implant them in their children just after birth. Spock thinks the Klingons are looking for the manufacturing center as their primary objective.

Star Trek #13, Page 10
This must be an homage of sorts to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The body of another murdered Hephaestan body is brought in, this time with the chip removed from his neck. Kirk accuses Kagg and the Klingons of the crime, prompting Kagg to order his ship to use a “stasis-field” weapon to immobilize the Enterprise in orbit.

McCoy suspects the real cause to Suvak’s ongoing oxygen deprivation is not good and awaits test results from the Enterprise.

Plots on a collision course

The story jumps around here more than in current comics.

In one page, we have a Klingon vaporizing one of the simians. Hephaestan Dr. Sikaar then stabs that Klingon, and we transition to Joanna thinking Suvak won’t make it. Bones asks her if that’s so bad. What kind of life would it be to marry an emotionless Vulcan who mates only once every seven years? She snipes back and McCoy — in the time-honored tradition of 1960s TV series — slaps her.

Star Trek #13, page 15
To quote Kirk: “Don’t mince words, Bones. What do you really think?”

From this point on, it’s all about wrapping up the plot. The Klingons have planted an explosive device at the manufacturing center, prompting the Hephaestans to fight them. It’s futile, of course, but Joanna rushes in to see what’s going on and Kagg takes her hostage. (You did see the cover, right?)

Star Trek #13, Page 17
Joanna gets captured by Kagg. Panel 5 is a tough one to read — I keep thinking someone’s clubbing Dr. Simaya instead of freeing him from rubble.

Kirk and Spock go after the Klingons, while McCoy diagnoses Suvak’s illness as choriocytosis, which means he’ll be dead in 24 hours. Kirk and Spock decide to dump the data from the manufacturing center into the Enterprise computers to preserve it. And then Suvak decides he wants to save Joanna as his final act.

Star Trek #13, Page 20
Suvak to the rescue!

There’s a standoff between the Klingons and Kirk’s crew, with Joanna caught in the middle. Suvak jumps in and attacks Kagg, holding him down while Kirk and his team — including Joanna — beam up to the Enterprise just before the explosive device detonates.

Star Trek #13, Page 22
Another overcrowded, extremely average issue comes to an end.

Wrapping it up, McCoy has a heart to heart with Kirk, confessing his own shortcomings in his relationship with Joanna. There’s a weird moment where McCoy admits that Joanna is his daughter to Kirk, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because McCoy told him that on page 17. The issue ends with McCoy beaming down to talk to her.

The human adventure is just beginning … to end

One year after the series debuted, the future of Star Trek as a comic book was on fumes. As with previous issues, this one tries too hard to be a TV episode and not play to the strengths of a comic book.

This is a strange period for Star Trek. On the surface, it looked like Star Trek: The Motion Picture had failed to fully resuscitate the franchise. Toy lines and other merchandise had failed to match the success of Star Wars.

But underneath, more was going on: Novels were doing well. The movie drew solid ratings on TV. There was some kind of audience there. But the vision of Star Trek presented in The Motion Picture had done little to inspire a clear vision of what Trek could become. That would change with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was still 18 months away at this point.

A comic on course for cancelation

There’s no letters column this issue. And no notice that the next issue won’t arrive for 60 days instead of 30. Bimonthly comics were still a thing in the 1980s, but fans knew that it was a good sign when a series goes from bimonthly to monthly — as X-Men did in 1977 — and a sign of trouble when it’s demoted from monthly to bimonthly. The same thing happened to Marvel’s Star Wars and Further Adventures of Indiana Jones series just before cancelation.

The same fate awaited this series, which limps along for five more issues before calling it quits.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fantasy Comics, 1989-90, Tucson, Ariz., Part 1

I don’t remember why I stopped shopping at AAA Best when I started my junior year at the University of Arizona. Instead, I starting shopping weekly in Tucson at Fantasy Comics, which is located at 2745 N. Campbell Ave.

Fantasy was in an unremarkable one-story building, with a glass case at the front full of its more expensive comics. New releases were racked to the immediate right. The rest of the current comics were stocked in alphabetical order in racks that stretched to the back of the shop. The main floor featured lots of back issues. Charlie Harris, a frequent DC “letter hack,” either owned the store or worked there.

One of the most memorable things for me about shopping at Fantasy was that back issues were in heat-sealed bags. To get them open, you needed scissors, so there were lots of discarded comic bags in my trash.

Into the Trek comics wormhole

I fell deep into Star Trek at the time. DC published in August new Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation series that I really enjoyed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had done poorly at the box office and with critics, but Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third series debuted in September and was by far its best to date.

But it was the classic Star Trek comic that really caught my eye. It had clever scripts by Peter David and slick art printed on good paper from the team of James Fry and Arne Starr. And nothing beat those covers by Jerome K. Moore. They are spectacular and I never tire of looking at them or admiring the skill Moore brought to those illustrations.

My Star Trek obsession led me to a Star Trek convention experience that cemented my fandom for that franchise. It was a weekend Creation Convention at the Tucson Convention Center, with special guest Patrick Stewart.

Prior to Stewart’s entrance, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Richard Arnold, previewed upcoming episodes of The Next Generation. These were sneak peeks at some of the best in the series’ run: “Deja Q,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Sins of the Father” and “Captain’s Holiday.”

Stewart appeared for a charming Q&A session at the end of the day. Among the secrets he revealed: He had accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona. But the offer slipped through through the cracks and after landing the role of Captain Picard, he never looked back. What might have been!

Marvel’s X-Men on the rise

The other hot franchise was X-Men. It had been a best-seller for years at this point, but new artists raised the excitement to a new level. Jim Lee’s arrival on X-Men seemed inevitable after lengthy runs on Alpha Flight and Punisher War Journal. He did a few issues here and there at first, before taking the full reins in the summer of 1990. At the same time, Rob Liefeld also was pitching in on X-Men titles and getting some heat. He took over the penciling chores on The New Mutants in 1990 and introduced Cable, another high point. Erik Larsen took over penciling The Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane, who was set to launch a new Marvel title. With Marc Silvestri jumping from X-Men to Wolverine, the seeds of the Image revolution were taking root.

But Star Trek had sort of taken over my mind. I collected the first DC series, re-watched the movies and original TV shows, and even enjoyed some of the Star Trek novels. “Writer of Stuff” Peter David was the creator whose work I most enjoyed, leading me inevitably to The Incredible Hulk.

Lost in the aisles of Bookman’s

Fantasy was but one of the shops I frequented that year. Another mainstay was Bookman’s, a used-book store that filled a former grocery store space with tons of fascinating objects. Each visit took hours, it seems. I’d start with out-of-town newspapers and move on to a newsstand section full of old and new magazines. Then there were aisles full of used books, cassettes, CDs, and bargain low-grade comics. I always flipped through Comics Scene and the Comics Buyers Guide, catching in the latter news of a Peter David signing at All About Books and Comics in Phoenix. I skipped out on school to drive up from Tucson in time to hit the Thursday evening event.

The Hulk tour hits Phoenix

The signing was part of a tour promoting David and artist Dale Keown’s work on The Incredible Hulk. Keown had only drawn two issues of Hulk at this point, and the signing was sparsely attended. That gave everyone a chance to hang out with David and Keown and chat about a lot of things. David signed several Star Trek issues for me, a Next Generation novel he’d written, and some Hulks. He joked about calling his editor back in New York to rave about the warm Arizona weather.

To my surprise, Keown hailed from Alberta, so we talked about Canada and Arizona, as well as comics. I remember he sold the splash page to The Incredible Hulk #367, his first issue, for about $150. A few years later, I saw the same page for sale in another Phoenix-area store for many multiples of that.

The signing was part of a mini-tour that continued that weekend to comic shops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All About produced a poster for the signing similar to the McFarlane one I wrote about previously. Mine is framed but in storage.

Hunting for back issues in Tucson

After that, I started seriously looking for back issues of The Incredible Hulk. David had been writer on Hulk for about three years, and I began by tracking down his back issues. I often visited a Tucson shop called Comics and Things, located in a strip mall at 3934 E. Grant Road, in search of Hulk and Star Trek back issues. It had a good selection of recent back issues but soon vanished into the ether.

The writing and art on Hulk surprised me. David started with a fairly conventional Hulk story with McFarlane on art. Their collaboration ended with a satisfying climax that completely changed the series’ premise. David next turned the Hulk gray and got him a job as a high-end Las Vegas bouncer named Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves drew this run and did a fabulous job before disappearing from the world of comics.

Hulk was so good that Sam Kieth drew the fill-ins — if you could call them that.

Keown drew Hulk for the next three years, and it became was a huge hit. David stuck with the title for years after, and still writes new Hulk stories from time to time. Great stuff.

How much is too much Batman?

This also was a time when Batman was still riding high on the popularity of the Tim Burton movie. So Batman was super-hot and DC released in the autumn of 1989 Legends of the Dark Knight #1. Promoted as the first new solo Batman book since 1940, this series set free top talent to do their ultimate Batman story.

The first issue also marked the first time I remember variant covers from a major publisher, as DC promoted the book with a second cover that came in four different colors. They said in the book that it was “just for fun,” but the result surely made DC’s accountants happy as fans decided they needed to have a copy of each color — and therefore bought four copies of that first issue.

Pointing out the differences between Tucson and Phoenix, that first Legends of the Dark Knight sold out immediately down south. The same was true of The New Titans #60 and 61, which were key parts of the current Batman storyline, “A Lonely Place of Dying.” I easily found both on my first comic shop stop on my next trip to Phoenix.

Next: My short career as a “letter hack.”

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #12 (March 1981)

Cover to Star Trek #12 (March 1981). Cover art assumed by Comics.org to be penciled by Joe Brozowski and definitely inked by Tom Palmer.

“Eclipse of Reason” (22 pages)
Plotter: Alan Brennert
Scripter: Martin Pasko
Artists: Luke McDonnell & Tom Palmer
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artists: Joe Brozowski & Tom Palmer

This issue is notable in that it’s one of the first comic book credits for Alan Brennert, who has written many fine novels and episodes of TV series like the 1970s Wonder Woman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Twilight Zone and L.A. Law, for which he won an Emmy award in 1991. He also wrote episodes of Stargate Atlantis and Star Trek: Enterprise under the pen name Michael Bryant.

It’s clear this is a pretty difficult comic to write for, mostly because too many of the scripters are trying too hard to do a TV episode instead of a comic. It’s also a good example of the original series format creating too much of an echo chamber. There’s a lot of repeating in these stories and not a lot of original ideas coming through. Not that that’s not normal for comic books, but it’s not done with sufficient energy or verve to work here.

Not a bad splash page. Good details and likenesses. But I have no idea what that pyramid thing Kadan is in is supposed to be.
I don’t think any of the proportions in this panel are corrct.

The art struggles to keep up with the story. There’s some very nice work here as far as likenesses. Palmer, clearly, has a few moments to shine. But the rest of the story lacks clarity and dynamism, and in a few places, just looks like it was done under rushed circumstances or by an artist whose skills weren’t up to the task of, say, drawing the Enterprise correctly.

Storywise, this issue sees yet another Kirk romance gone sideways as he learns his former yeoman, Janice Rand, has fallen in love with and married a being of pure energy named Kadan of Phaeton. Kadan is captain of the USS Icarus, which is tasked with exploring beyond the energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy. Rand is going along with Kadan on this mission as the lone human aboard, tasked with doing what the bodyless Phaetonians cannot. The mission will take 1,000 years, so Rand will live out the rest of her life aboard the Icarus, with her husband, who will outlive her by many hundreds of years.

Sad, no?

Nice page, especially that middle panel. It’s well drawn and the color use is interesting, too.

The Enterprise regulars check out the Icarus to ensure it’s in good operating condition. Kirk confronts Rand about her radical choice, reminding her that she’s a woman and her husband doesn’t even have a body. (Kirk’s nothing if not subtle, right?)

After the farewell, the Enterprise heads off to its next mission, while the Icarus hits the barrier and it drives the Phaetonian’s insane and makes Rand telepathic.

The plot’s wonky, but I do like this page. It’s one of the few uncrowded pages in the entire series and shows that it is indeed possible to draw good-looking Star Trek comics.

Now, this is where you have to wonder about this plot. Clearly, everyone in this story remembers what happened when the Enterprise tried to pierce that barrier in the classic second pilot of the series, titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That was the episode where Kirk’s best friend Gary Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood, gains god-like abilities when the ship tries to pass through the barrier. He’s joined shortly thereafter by Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman), and Kirk is forced to kill them both before their powers go out of control. It was one of the best episodes of the show, and one whose message would be hard to ignore. But ignore it Starfleet does, and the results are equally disastrous.

Rand seeks out Kadan for help, only to find he’s gone mad and is projecting an image of what his body-bearing ancestors once looked like into her mind for added effect.

The Icarus quickly destroys a cargo vessel and heads on a direct course to the Phaetonian homeworld. Far away, Spock receives a telepathic message from Rand and passes on what has happened to Kirk, who cancels his current mission to help out.

That first line of dialog in panel three is unintentionally hilarious. It’s also unclear what exactly is happening to Rand.

Aboard the Icarus, Rand is trapped on the bridge when the crew shuts down the turbolifts and drives the ship into a “white hole.” The Enterprise follows and both ships enter a strange dimension and attempt to disable each other with phaser fire. Rand gets a signal through and tells Kirk the Phaetonians are like salmon swimming upstream — they want to return to their home planet and “land” the Icarus, meaning it’ll crash into the surface and the anti-matter explosion will kill billions.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov beam over through a hole Scotty shoots in the Icarus’ shields and are trapped there as the Icarus damages the Enterprise and is able to speed off.

Another mix of good and bad art — so much so that this could have been a page from the old Gold Key comic book series.

The Icarus itself starts fighting the crew, which it has to because the Phaetonians have no bodies. That means force fields enacted, artificial gravity giving out and training devices attacking the crew.

Nice top panel, but the rest looks like it was adapted from a rejected X-Men story set in the Danger Room.

Rand detects her old shipmates and crawls through a Jeffries tube to reach them, while Scotty prepares the Enterprise crew for his new orders: Ram the Icarus to prevent it from reaching its homeworld.

Spock and Rand manage to telepathically communicate with Kadan and help him regain his senses at the same moment Kirk turns the gravity and life support back on — just in time to avoid a ramming from the Enterprise.

Um, yeah. No comment.

The story ends with less than a page explaining that the Phaetonians are off to an asylum on Elba II. Rand’s decided to seek an annulment and asks Kirk if she can have her old job back as the Enterprise transporter chief.

At least she’s not going back to getting Kirk coffee.

Rand’s story ends worse than it began. I get why that happens — characters like that might always be needed in the future and so you can’t really send them off on a 1,000-year mission. But nothing is added to her story. Her relationship with Kadan isn’t believable, nor her continued pining for Kirk. The captain fares no better, coming off as a complete jerk who expects Rand to be available to him on an ongoing basis — even though he has no intention of being with her at all.

And nobody else in this issue gets any more than that. The title lacks any kind of emotional connection with or between its characters and I can’t imagine that anyone other than a die-hard Star Trek fan finding much to enjoy with it.

I will add that this is one of several Marvel comics published this month that features the little gag at the end called “The Former X-Men,” which is a parody cover of The Uncanny X-Men #142’s cover. Cute.

Jim Salicrup and Terry Austin’s parody of the cover to The Uncanny X-Men #142.

One year out from the start of this series, it’s not looking good for its future. Star Wars was riding high, based on the success of The Empire Strikes Back and the anticipation for Return of the Jedi. It was hard at this time to think much of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or the future of Star Trek as a franchise, as The Wrath of Khan was still a year and a half away. But Marvel had another year on its license, so the comic book was still on track to publish through 1981.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #11 (Feb. 1981)

Cover to Star Trek #11. Art by Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer.

“… Like A Woman Scorned!” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer

A much better effort this issue, though the plots continue to be plagued by the embarrassing and not-very-interesting trope of the Enterprise crew encountering ancient Earth myths in the depths of space. Star Trek’s gone there on more than one occasion, but these are rarely the best episodes. Time travel and more straight-on, traditional sci-fi conventions that are integrated with character are the real hallmarks of Star Trek. And Marvel just can’t quite get there.

This issue we get a decidedly new look with art by Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer. This is Brozowski’s first work on a Star Trek comic, not it’s not his last as he contributed to a number of issues in DC’s first series.

Tom Palmer is a legendary comic book inker. He’s inked tons of Avengers for Marvel, as well as having inked Neal Adams’ legendary run on X-Men. He also did finishes over Walt Simonson’s breakdowns on Marvel’s Star Wars. His work is detailed and organic, and his style is unmistakable and always welcome in any comic book I read. He has a real talent for likenesses, as well, which makes him well-suited to Star Trek.

Now that’s a splash page!

This issue starts off with a great image on the splash page of Starfleet officers dying of exposure to Berthold rays on the planet Andronicus. It’s dramatic, and exciting! There’s actually something going on this issue.

The officers died a while back, but the Enterprise is headed to Andronicus because it’s the home of a clinic founded by psychiatrist Carl Wentworth. The clinic had protected Wentworth and his staff from the Berthold rays with a transparent neutronium shield that is now failing. The Enterprise is to transport the doctor and his crew to Starbase 28.

I have to mention Wentworth for a moment, because he’s described before his appearance in this story as the founder of the “anti-apologists movement.” McCoy calls him a con artist, Kirk admits some call him a cult leader. And Spock describes his teachings as training people base their conduct on “enlightened self-interest.” McCoy remarks that he senses disdain in Spock’s voice, which he denies.

Lots and lots of words on this page.

Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy that dates back to Alexis de Toqueville as a kind of “treat others as you would have them treat you.” But it also evokes Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, which uses the term “rational self-interest” to describe the idea that improving and enriching yourself is the best way to improve the world. Like everything associated with Rand, her views are controversial and evoke extreme devotion among a small set of devotees and general derision from the rest of the world. And of course any discussion of Ayn Rand and comics leads back to Steve Ditko and the controversies associated with his career. Let’s see what happens …

The first member of Wentworth’s party to beam aboard is a lovely woman in a tiny wisp of a dress named Andrea Manning, who shares some unpleasant history with Scotty that he’s embarrassed by.

All of this, by the way, happens in the first three pages of this comic!

En route to Starbase 28, Spock notes a decrease in Scotty’s efficiency, while Wentworth gets a tour of the ship. Of course, he’s dressed like a cult leader: robes, sandals, balding with long white hair and a beard. And, of course, an attitude. On the bridge, he gives Uhura an earful about following orders when she should decide what she wants to do on a moment to moment basis. She dismisses him as a kook.

What the heck’s going on here? At least the art is pretty to look at.

Then this story gets really strange. The intruder alert alarm sounds in engineering as a “witch-hag” appears and rips through crewmen as it goes after Scotty. The hag is pretty powerful, redirecting and amplifying phaser fire back at crew members, then enlarging a security guard’s phaser so much that he’s pinned underneath it. Kirk jumps in and is knocked back, while Spock’s nerve-pinch goes right through the hag’s shoulder and she makes him dance like he’s in a Beyonce video before disappearing.

Spock gets jiggy with it in panel 4.

In sickbay, Bones says Scotty shows signs of fear but otherwise should be OK. While he’s out, he whispers “Black Annis” and Spock heads off to look it up in the computer banks.

Wentworth, meanwhile, is in the recreation deck telling Uhura and Sulu they should follow their whims and change course to Drexler II for shore leave. Somehow, they find themselves following his lead. And Dr. Chapel checks in on Andrea Manning to find her downing a bottle of saurian brandy by herself and going off on how much she loved Scotty and how much she gave up for him, only to less important to him than a rivet on a baffle plate.

Andrea Manning’s apparently a lightweight when it comes to drinking. No wonder Scotty left her.

Spock learns Black Annis is a character from ancient Scottish folklore that used to eat small children. Then Kirk finds the ship’s off course and headed to Drexler II. Kirk orders security to the bridge to arrest Sulu and Uhura and put them in the brig. And then another intruder alert comes in as another creature from Scottish folklore — a birdlike creature called a direach — is attacking Bones, Spock and Scotty. Spock tries to nerve pinch it, but it responds by kicking his ass. Bones shoots it with a phaser, to no avail. Kirk then tries to throttle it. Yes, throttle it! At that moment, Andrea Manning passes out from too much brandy and the creature disappears.

This page is all kinds of crazy: Kirk throttling a mythical creature and Andrea passes out drunk.

Chekov then reports that a full-fledged mutiny is underway as Wentworth takes control of the Enterprise. He rants about having leaned mind-direction techniques from ancient archives on Andronicus and he plans to create a new base on Drexler II, with the Enterprise at its command. Spock decides to mind-meld with Scotty to erase his memories of Scottish folklore as a way to cut off the source of Andrea’s power, while Kirk storms the bridge. Wentworth appears to win over Kirk, Andrea wakes up ranting about how much she hates Scotty and the ship is rocked by a giant alien creature wrapping itself around the ship.

Wentworth looks a little like Hitler in panel 5.

As the entirety of Star Trek up to this point has made clear, the only thing Kirk really loves is the Enterprise and his mission. So he overcomes Wentworth’s influence and decks him with a left cross. He realizes the creature is, of course, the Loch Ness Monster. Bones knocks out Andrea with a sedative, and the monster disappears. The Enterprise drops off Andrea, Wentworth and the rest of their people at a rehabilitation center. Kirk notes no charges against the crew because they were under Wentworth and Andrea’s influence, and the ship warps off to the next issue.

As you might expect from what I wrote above about the artists on this issue, I like the way this looks. The problem is the story, which tries to pack way too much into a mere 22-page comic to work. There are quite a few seven-panel pages in this book, and one nine-panel page — just to keep up! There’s also a lot of script to explain things going on that the art can’t convey.

But it’s just a mess, overall. The folklore creatures, the mutiny, Scotty’s bad breakup, the heavy drinking, the cult leader — it’s all too much. None of it has space or time to develop into anything of note. And the villain, who’s clear from the start and about as one-dimensional as you can get, is practically squeezed out of his own story. It evokes enough Star Trek flavor to feel kind of like a Star Trek story, but it’s too crammed full of elements for the story to deliver anything more than a surface experience.

No letters column appears in this issue, replaced by a house ad for Spider-Woman.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #10 (Jan. 1981)

Cover to Star Trek (Marvel) #10 (Jan. 1981).
Art by Frank Miller and Gene Day.

“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.

A decent splash page, but these shots of the USS Enterprise lack drama unless something’s happening to the ship. Also, I wonder how Gene Roddenberry felt about his name being so small and Stan Lee’s so large on the page.

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!

Not sure where this shuttlecraft design comes from. The one that appears at the end of the story is based on the shuttle design from the original TV series.

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.

Solid, but not very dynamic.
The bottom panel is as close as this issue gets to fulfilling the promise of the cover.

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.

McCoy easily and completely violates the prime directive.

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 story’s climax is something no one who bought the issue wanted to see: The non-exciting final battle between Ragnok and K’Barrgh! Thanks, Barak-7!
Also, what’s with the random panel break on the left side of the page?

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.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #9 (Dec. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #9 (Dec. 1980). Art is unsigned, but credited on Comics.org to Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein.

“Experiment in Vengeance!” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Frank Springer
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artists: Dave Cockrum & Joe Rubinstein

This one’s complicated, and not in a good way. I do give Marty Pasko credit for trying to do an issue of the comic that evokes the feel of the show, but this is an excellent example of trying to do a TV show in a comic book format instead of adapting the show to comics.

Not a terrible start, but drawing the USS Enterprise is tricky and even artists as experienced as Cockrum and Springer struggle to get it right.

This one starts off with the USS Enterprise locating the USS Endeavor, a starship lost in action 22 years ago whose fate has puzzled Starfleet ever since. As the Enterprise approaches, Lt. Karen Hester-Jones reports to Kirk as the ship’s new zoologist. She and Kirk have an obvious history together, one that obviously didn’t end well and, for her, not happily. The Endeavor then surprises everyone by intercepting the Enterprise and attacking!

All this happens by the end of page 2!

Page 3 is where the seams start to show. Spock detects no life forms, but the Enterprise is able to immobilize the Endeavor in a panel that sees the word balloons pointing at the wrong ships. The script’s also been all over the place in terms of technobabble, with the Endeavor reported as being found a half-parsec from its last known location (which doesn’t seem that far off in Trek terms), and then distances tossed around inconsistently — 25,000 km out is far out, but then it seems closer at 200,000 before instantly getting down to 1,000 km. A sure sign this issue was under the deadline gun.

It’s interesting to note, as the crew beams over to the Endeavor’s bridge (in environment suits) that the ship’s exteriors and interiors, as well as the crew’s uniforms, evoke the TV series very strongly. With the sweater-like collars on the crew’s tunics, it looks very much like the second Star Trek TV pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Then it gets weird — and familiar in a not-s0-good way. There’s a mysterious, sparkly cloud that “possesses” one of the crew members. We just had a ghost story in issues #4 and #5, and here we are going down that same path again! There’s a three-page action sequence that’s better than it should be, really, but still fails to be interesting because all the characters are fighting each other in big, clunky, monotone-colored environment suits. It’s a bit of a chore to figure out who’s who in this mess. But they end up beaming back to the Enterprise with the possessed crewman — and the sparkly cloud tags along in the transporter beam.

Figures in environment suits fight on the USS Endeavor. Nice attempt to spice things up with the color holds in those last two panels.

While the sparkly cloud sneaks around the ship, Hester-Jones and Kirk have it out. Turns out they were a couple, until Kirk was drawn back to Starfleet. She was angry at him and married Bill Jones, who realized he couldn’t compete with Kirk and didn’t renew their marriage license. (This was something Gene Roddenberry mentioned in the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Marriage licenses in the 23rd century have to be renewed or they expire. Kirk’s marriage to Vice Admiral Lori Ciani ended the same way.) She’s still angry with Kirk, but he has a job to do!

Will Jim Kirk ever allow himself … to be loved?

On cue, Spock reveals that the Endeavor’s logs reveal its last mission was responding to a distress call from Janet Hester on a moon called Mycena. Hester-Jones says that was her grandmother’s name, but it couldn’t have been because Janet Hester died at the age of 36 in 2139. Spock then shows it was her, producing a photo of her at age 89. He continues: Shortly after the Endeavor rescued Janet Hester, the crew started going crazy and the crew was eventually murdered or killed by cutting life support. The madness, of course, resembles what happened to the Enterprise crewmember on the Endeavor, so Kirk receives new orders to investigate and orders a course to Mycena.

Ten pages in, you can see how dense this story is, though not in a good way. It’s very episodic and clunky when it wants so very much to be mysterious and interconnected.

And it doesn’t get any better once the Enterprise arrives at Mycena, which is an ice planet. Kirk, Bones, Spock and Sulu beam down in parkas and split up to explore two tunnels that both lead to an underground chamber. Bones and Spock are immediately attacked by a giant lobster creature that resists all phaser fire and can’t be detected by a tricorder. It also has flexible spine, so it can follow Spock and McCoy into the tunnels. Kirk and Sulu somehow spot a human body underneath the ice that isn’t shown in the artwork, and then meet up with Spock and McCoy in a chamber with a device that, when Spock activates it, creates a defense field that keeps out the creature. And if that wasn’t enough, Sulu notices that this alien technology has Starfleet technology added to it.

Lots of talking heads and pointing — all in that inimitable Cockrum style!

Then Bones finds some early transporter technology and Spock digs up computer records of the “Hester Project.” Kirk calls the ship, where Uhura is the most-recent crewmember to be possessed. He sends McCoy up to help with that, and orders Hester-Jones beamed down. He asks her to take some samples from the lobster thing and she explains her grandmother “died” when she was lost in space while being transported from the her assignment at the Deneva Research Station. Kirk then realizes she was part of the team that invented the transporter and that, after they were ordered to discontinue the project, she and six of her colleagues ended up getting “lost,” landing on Mycena and continuing their experiments.

An angry Lt. Uhura starts tearing things apart as she looks for a script that isn’t lame.

You’re not the only one struggling to keep up. The pages stopped even being numbered half-way through this one.

Doctor, heal thyself.

And it gets weirder. The possessed crewmembers all start chanting in unison: “We seek Hester! The Unity seeks Hester!” They then bust out of sickbay, giving McCoy a black eye, and beam down to attack Hester-Jones. Kirk realizes they want Janet Hester and that there are six beings who were all Hester’s colleagues and became trapped as spirit-like creatures because of the transporter experiments. When she was rescued by the Endeavor, they followed and killed the crew trying to kill her. But she escaped in a shuttlecraft and died in a crash landing … on Mycena.

That’s the body Sulu spotted, and Kirk uses it to lure the Unity into the shuttle, and then tosses in some overloaded phasers and beams up just before the whole thing blows up.

If all else fails, blow it up! The throwback shuttlecraft is a nice touch and drawing it was probably the only fun Cockrum had while working on this issue.

Finally, the end is in sight. Spock’s puzzled by their hatred, the “possessed” crewmembers are all back to normal, and Hester-Jones decides to move on from Jim Kirk and transfers off the Enterprise.

The only woman Jim Kirk can love is named … Enterprise!

Just understanding the plot in this one is difficult. It’s way too much crammed into too small a space to work in any way, shape or form. The art by Cockrum and Springer is, in a way, a minor miracle for not making the entire affair even worse. Visually, it’s not terrible. But it’s not good either.

And let’s look at the cover for this issue, which is confusing in so many ways. I’m going to assume the woman in the Starfleet uniform is supposed to be Karen Hester-Jones, though her outfit and hair are colored differently than inside the issue. If the man is supposed to be Kirk, it’s not at all clear, but who else would it be? I thought on first glance that these were Endeavor crewmembers, but that’s obviously wrong. And the story has six alien ghosts, and this cover features nine heads. I do like the overall composition, with the swooping Tholian-style lines, but that also has nothing to do with the story inside.

Last thing: the letters column is still being written by Mike W. Barr, who didn’t write this issue and won’t write another one until issue #17.

Clearly, this is a title in disarray. Marvel had more success with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, in part because those books found sympatico creative leaders in, respectively, Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson. And while affection among the Marvel staff for Star Trek was clearly high, that direction was lacking in the comics themselves.

At least the next issue has a Frank Miller cover to look forward to.

Comic Treks: Star Trek (Marvel) #8 (Nov. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #8 (Nov. 1980), art by Dave Cockrum.

“The Expansionist Syndrome” (22 pages)
Writer:
Martin Pasko
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte
Letterer: Ray Burzon
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artist: Dave Cockrum

A few changes this issue, with Marty Pasko stepping in as writer and Ricardo Villamonte as inker on Dave Cockrum’s pencils. There’s good and bad in these changes: Pasko’s script starts off strong and action packed — the best so far of the original stories — but suffers from trying to wedge in a full TV episode’s worth of plot in a comic book space. It quickly becomes clear there’s just not enough space to give the ideas space to breathe or context to give it meaning. Villamonte fares better, bringing a much cleaner look to Cockrum’s pencils that better suits the series. It’s the best-looking book so far in the series, even with Cockrum’s design biases on clear display in the creation of the alien Machs (who look a lot like the Sidri from X-Men).

This issue begins with a solid splash page of the bridge crew reacting in pain as alien ships can seen on the main viewer — and Spock looking like he’s in a trance. The captions explain the Enterprise is on its way on an emergency medical mission to Starbase 14 and its course has taken it into the Agena system, where the inhabitants of the fourth planet have taken their appearance in their space as an invasion.

A decent splash page, but that title lettering is weak.

We then get a pretty good two-page spread, with the Agenan ships trapping the Enterprise with energy bands resembling the web seen in the third season TV episode “The Tholian Web.” The energy is causing the bridge crew extreme pain and disrupting the matter/anti-matter generators, trapping the ship in space with all other systems operational. The last panel reveals the medical mission the trap disrupts is getting an ill agricultural engineer to the Starbase for a live-saving procedure. Without it, she’ll die in 24 hours.

Shades of “The Tholian Web,” but still a pretty dynamic two-page spread from Cockrum.

Complicating matters, Spock is “digitized” off the bridge to one of the alien ships, which heads to the planet surface. So, naturally, Kirk prepares to fight back only to hear from Scotty that the energy disruption is affecting weapons systems and that unless they stop the aliens the Enterprise will explode in four hours.

Spock goes to pieces. Or maybe he just really likes the cover to Talking Heads’ 1978 album, “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” I think he and David Byrne would get on well.

Villamonte’s inks and Burzon’s very clear lettering show how mismatched Janson’s style was with the book. The story so far has breezed along easily, clearly and is quite entertaining. Cockrum’s art looks like Cockrum’s art. And it continues in some cool alien designs and layouts as Kirk leads a landing party to a surface full of interesting aliens and a fair bit of action.

And here’s where the story starts to run into itself. First, we have the humanoid aliens on the planet calling themselves Orgs and their enemies are the Mox. More on that in a bit. And then the critical patient on the Enterprise, Professor Lenore Fowler, starts smacking tools out of Dr. Chapel’s hands as she demands to see McCoy.

Cockrum again delivers with a nice alien in the first panel and then that fourth panel with the projectile-tossing arm just visible on the edge.

The Enterprise sensors pick up Spock’s life form readings as the only such readings in a 200 km radius, and lead the landing party to his location within a large temple. There’s some slug-like creatures all around called the Kamahr that generate force fields. An org named D’vid explains the Orgs and Mox are enemies fighting for control of the planet. The Mox have control and confine the Orgs to small areas unable to support their population. So they starve and are now ready to fight back with a planned invasion of the Mox temple.

Next, we find Spock inside the temple with the Mox citing self defense as they attempt to convince him to use his telepathic abilities on the Kamahr in some way. Spock refuses, of course.

Kirk and McCoy, meanwhile, are in the temple and see the Mox for the first time. Together, they figure out that the Mox are Machs, as in machines, and the Orgs are organisms. Mastering the obvious is apparently a difficult course to pass at Starfleet Academy. When the Mox guard spots D’vid, it attacks and the landing party defends itself by destroying the guard. They then find and free Spock, who, like some kind of pointy-eared Clarissa, tells it all: the Mox have learned of the Orgs invasion and are seeking a way to defend themselves as nonviolently as possible by tapping into the Kamahr and their telekinetic abilities.

Kirk and McCoy put their half-brains together and figure out the obvious.

Meanwhile, Chapel makes the mistake of turning her back on the professor, who uses a hypospray on her doctor to escape. Back on the planet, McCoy and Kirk debate whether killing the Mox is murder, when the Orgs attack. Spock, of course, fixes the whole thing by mind melding with the Kamahr and using their telekinesis to free the Enterprise from the Mox ship. Kirk orders the ship to fire its phasers in a wide target on stun mode, which stops the invasion by knocking out all the Orgs.

The Fowler stuff aside, I like the little debate in the bottom half of this page. It really evokes the feeling of the original series.

The professor, meanwhile, stuns the transporter crew and beams down in time to tell Kirk she has a solution to the planet’s problem — just as she collapses due to her fatal disease.

Suddenly, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are back on the Enterprise bridge. Kirk reveals how Spock’s mind-meld revealed that the Mox and Org were both from Earth — refugees from the Eugenics wars of the 1990s.

A good page for some typical Trek-like banter — too bad none of it makes sense.

Then Professor Fowler on the planet communicates that she’s doing great with the mechanical heart the Mox designed for her and that she’s got high hopes for the truce she arranged between them. She’s already got them building hydroponics gardens, high-rise housing and instituted a population control program.

Since THAT all worked out somehow, Kirk orders the ship on to its next mission.

And just in case you weren’t confused enough, here’s a final attempt to explain this story before it ends.

This is a script that really tries to evoke the feeling of the TV show, and succeeds in a number of ways. But it ends being too much story for a 22 page comic book. (In case you were wondering, Marvel did up its story page count in 1980 from 17 to 22 pages at the same time it raised prices from 40 cents to 50 cents.) Trying to jam this much story into a single issue fails to give any of the elements the space to build any suspense or have the payoff mean much of anything in any of its plot lines. The klunkiness of the Mox and Orgs and D’vid is pretty mawkish, and the Professor Fowler character has no rational motivation for her actions and ends up pretty much just a plot device designed to increase danger and resolve the story.

The rest of the comic is pretty solid, though. The mention of the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s predicts and pre-dates plans to bring back Khan in the next movie. The art is clean and clear and has the personality and flair you expect from Dave Cockrum. The colors aren’t flashy, but they do their job. And the lettering is clean and clear. I think Marvel must have upgraded its printing along with expanding the page rates, because there’s far less of the muddiness seen in previous issues to be found here. Even the cover is a big improvement, actually showing one of the main characters — Spock — prominently and in a perilous situation interesting-looking enough to entice readers to part with their half-dollars. No letters page this issue, but there are plenty of signs that the book is improving in many ways for hopeful Trekkers in the summer of 1980.

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