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Star Trek (Marvel) #7 (Oct. 1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek (Marvel) #6 (Sept. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #6, by Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson.

“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 lesson of this page is: Never use the transporter when Rand’s in charge.

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.

Some nice color work here gives some depth to this panel.

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.

Writer Mike W. Barr fights with the captions for a … bar fight.

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!

Cockrum almost makes this page work. Almost.

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!”

Bones “shoots” someone for the second issue in a row.

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.

Some nice color work here, even if the story is by this point incoherent.

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.

Star Trek #6 is not in the same league.

Star Trek (Marvel) #5 (Aug. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek (Marvel) #5 (Aug. 1980), by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.

“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.

An ensign gets phasered, and our eyes suffer for all the orange, pink and purple on this page.

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.

The plot stands still, but Cockrum and Janson deliver a few panels of nice art.

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.

Fast decision by Bones, and more eye-cancer inducing color holds.

Meanwhile, Raytag is revealed as being the receptor for the images on the Enterprise, and a sudden power surge kills him in the bring.

Finally, some fun! The monsters are unleashed on the Klingons.

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.

And the transporter saves the story once again. Maybe.

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.

Star Trek (Marvel) #4 (July 1980)

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

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

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

Raytag escapes as soon as he’s beamed aboard.

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

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

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

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

Crewmembers “forming friendships”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Super Special #15: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek (Marvel) #1-3

Marvel Super Special #15. Cover painted by Bob Larkin.

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.

The Canadian paperback edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Cover by Bob Larkin.

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.”

Marv Wolfman, Comics Feature #28 (1983), via tom Brevoort’s Marvel 1980s blog.

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 opening splash pages, from Star Trek #1, left, and Marvel Super Special #15.
A closer look at the difference in color brightness, via a color hold on page 2.

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.

Two-page spread of the Enterprise leaving drydock, from Marvel Super Special #15.
The same spread from Star Trek #1. This version’s colors are more harmonious, but the art is muddier.

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.

New splash page added to Star Trek #2.
A fuzzy inking job on Kirk.

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.

Artist Dave Cockrum did great hand gestures, keeping things visually less than completely dull.
V’ger revealed looks much better in Marvel Super Special #15, above, which brings out the detail in the art and the color.
It doesn’t translate very well to Star Trek #2.
Advert in Star Trek #2 for Star Trek: The Motion Picture action figures, toys and vehicles. I understand that students at the Joe Kubert School often drew these ads. And, boy, those toys are expensive for 1979!
Decker looks more like a Cockrum character here, while Ilia has a heavy Janson influence.
Splash page added for Star Trek #3.
Spock is caught in a color hold.
Cockrum’s chops just keep shining through, no matter how fast he had to draw. The likeness of Spock in the top right panel is great and the center panel’s action is all Cockrum, baby!

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.

But more on that next time.

Has it really been 40.5 years since ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ came out? Part 2

I became a Star Trek fan at the age of 6. I started grade one and all the kids on the playground were talking about how cool Star Trek was. This would have been in September 1975, and Star Trek had just started being shown locally in syndication five days a week in the late afternoon — perfect for kids to absorb after school and before dinner. I was an instant fan. My mother told me she and my father used to watch Star Trek when it first came on the air, and would make sure they were home the nights it was broadcast.

The show’s syndication success made possible a good amount of merchandise for the day.

The Star Trek Exploration Set model kit box. It looks like it’s not too difficult to land one of these.

First, it was model kits of the USS Enterprise, the bridge and the “Exploration Set,” which included a phaser, communicator and Tricorder. Each one came with an order form for iron-on transfers, and I sent away for as many as I could. I remember having to wait an unusually long time for one set to arrive as Canada Post was on strike and no mail was being delivered. There was one set that included the Starfleet symbols for Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty, and my mom would put them on the correct colored turtlenecks I seemed to wear a lot. I’m wearing my Kirk yellows in my Grade 1 school photo. (Side note: A few years back I was seated at a press event across from William Shatner and showed him this photo. His response: “That’s wonderful!”)

The offer for the iron-on transfers. I believe I ordered than one set of these.

There also was the Dinky die-cast USS Enterprise, for which I lost the shuttlecraft one day and was crushed never to recover it; toy utility belts and various cheap “ray guns” that came in Trek packaging despite looking like nothing on the show; some cool walkie-talkies; and the Mego dolls, or “action figures” as they would soon be called. I remember having quite a few of those, including a few hard-to-get ones (at least in Canada) that my parents brought back from a trip to the U.S. And I was lucky enough to get the Enterprise bridge playset with the cool transporter function for Christmas.

Die-cast USS Enterprise vehicle with shuttlecraft. It also had disks you put in the saucer and when you turned the bridge they’d fire out the front. The USS Enterprise bridge playset from Mego was made of printed heavy cardboard with a vinyl coating on it. The chair and helm were very cheap. But the real attraction was the transporter. You’d put a figure in on side, spin the top and then press the right button to stop it on the other side and it emulated the look of the show! They used the same thing for the tornado in the Wizard of Oz set my sister had. The Mego Star Trek Walkie Talkies were pretty cool. They were much bigger than the ones on the show, but they did work reasonably well. These cheap utility belt toy sets were common in the 1970s, though this was easily the best, with accurate looking versions of the phaser, communicator and tricorder.

But time moves on, and a cooler space show came along the next year: Space: 1999. That was what my friends and I were all into in 1976-77, with season two episodes airing weekly on the CBC on Saturday afternoons, to be followed by a couple of curling matches and, hopefully, a good cartoon from the NFB before Hockey Night in Canada came on at 6 p.m. I was wearing my Space: 1999 costume, in fact, the night my parents shoveled us all in the car at the end of the school year to go to the drive-in and see a new movie called Star Wars. (That’s a whole other story.)

Back cover ad that appeared on August 1979 issues of Marvel comics. Note the shared screenplay credit for Gene Roddenberry and Harold Livingston. This scan was from a copy of X-Men #124. This would have appeared on newsstands in April or May of 1979.

I was primarily aware of Star Trek: The Motion Picture from the ads that appeared on the backs of comic books in the year or so leading up to its release. I saw the movie the day after it opened, on Saturday, Dec. 8, 1979, at the Paramount Theater in Edmonton as part of a friend’s birthday party. I liked it a lot while I was watching it. What’s not to like? It’s space! It’s Star Trek! It looks cool! But the memory of the movie faded really fast. By Christmas, you would have had to remind me that I’d seen it.

Not anymore. I previously owned two copies on VHS: one the letterboxed theatrical cut and the other the home video extended cut. I have the Director’s Cut on DVD (more on that later). And now I have on Blu-ray the original theatrical cut, which I popped in the other night to run through one … more … time. 

Next: Trek’s theatrical shakedown mission.

TMP Poster

Has it really been 40.5 years since ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ came out? Part 1

Bob Peak’s distinctive artwork for the release poster for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Note: This is a post I meant to write about six or seven months ago, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Stuff happened, but I still have a lot to say on this topic. So here’s a belated tribute to the movie’s anniversary, told in three parts.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of the most divisive entries in the decades-long canon of Star Trek.

Much like the return of Star Wars twenty years later, Star Trek: The Motion Picture faced high expectations from a fan base that had patiently waited a decade for a continuation of the beloved series. Weighed down by behind-the-scenes production problems that have become legendary in their own right, the movie upon release was heavily criticized for its languid pacing, meandering direction and lack of action. Coming just two years after Star Wars had sparked a sci-fi and visual-effects boom, the movie was not-unfairly dubbed Star Trek: The Motionless Picture and Spockalypse Now by fans and critics upon its release Dec. 7, 1979.

Despite its many flaws, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was an unlikely hit. It failed to generate toy sales and licensing revenue along the lines of Star Wars, but Trek fans tenaciously indulged in enough repeat viewings to deliver an impressive domestic box-office take of $82 million and a worldwide gross around $175 million. That made it the No. 5 film of the year, ahead of Ridley Scott’s Alien and just behind Apocalypse Now, Rocky II and The Amityville Horror. Kramer vs. Kramer was the year’s top-grosser, with $106 million in domestic ticket sales.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture also ended up being a hit in the then-new secondary market of home video, becoming a top rental on videocassette and the short-lived videodisc format upon its release in 1981. And it was further boosted by its airing as an ABC Sunday Night Movie in 1983, which restored some 12 minutes of footage cut from the theatrical version. The restored scenes had a huge impact on the story, including as it does a scene where Spock comes to terms with his own internal conflicts and sheds a tear for V’ger. The extended edition was released on home video to become the definitive version for fans. And a director’s cut was released on DVD in 2000, with Robert Wise going back in to polish the edit and finish several sequences that fell victim to tight deadlines.

All the fun stuff on this one is in the details, so let’s get into it. Most of the information here I’m pulling from several books, including Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ Star Trek: Phase II — The Lost Series, the 1984 edition of David Gerrold’s World of Star Trek, William Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memories, Gene Roddenberry and Susan Sackett’s The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Herb Solow and Robert Justman’s Inside Star Trek: The Real Story.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a long development history. Production on the original Star Trek series was never smooth, from the original 1964 pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike that NBC rejected, to the then-unheard-of second pilot with William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk, through the fight to save the show from cancelation and its eventual demise. Most accounts from people who were there portray an often-chaotic production.

At the center of it was Star Trek creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry, who himself was a source of much controversy. Roddenberry-approved versions of the show’s history always portray him as a lone creative voice fighting unimaginative network executives. But other points of view from folks like Harlan Ellison, Shatner, producer Bob Justman and exec Herbert Solow are decidedly less flattering toward Roddenberry as both a person and a producer.

Spock Walk
Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, explores V’ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After Trek ended its original TV run in 1969, Roddenberry tried to move on to other projects with little success. He wrote and produced the feature Pretty Maids All in a Row, a screwball romantic comedy which starred Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowell and featured Trek veterans Jimmy Doohan and William Campbell. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. And his Trek-like attempts to do more sci-fi concepts on TV struggled to find an audience, with Genesis II, The Questor Tapes and Planet Earth all airing as TV movies but failing to make it to series.

Realizing Trek would likely be his one and only golden egg, Roddenberry moved back to the property in the early 1970s as Star Trek’s syndication success was skyrocketing. He succeeded in getting Trek back on the air as an animated series, but that was (unfairly, I think) dismissed by pretty much everyone as kids’ stuff, with the real goal being a live-action reunion of the original cast on the small screen or the big screen.

Entire books have been written about the back-and-forth between Roddenberry and Paramount on the issue of reviving Star Trek. Those plans were constantly in flux, taking the shape at various times of a low-budget feature series similar to Planet of the Apes, a series of 90-minute TV movies, a weekly hourlong TV series and, again, as a feature film of some kind. What eventually clicked was a return to the TV series format as Star Trek: Phase II, which would premiere in 1978 as the flagship show of Paramount’s planned fourth television network.

Most Trek fans know what follows: Roddenberry reworked the series, taking on suggestions most notably from the detailed and loving critique offered by “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode writer David Gerrold in his 1972 book (revised in 1984), The World of Star Trek. Among the changes: Kirk was too valuable as the captain of the Enterprise to go into dangerous situations each week, so an executive officer was created to handle that part of the job in Willard Decker. Decker also had some emotional baggage in his relationship with the ship’s new navigator, Lt. Ilia, who was from a planet where sexual relations was just how they got along. (This idea was never explained beyond the idea that Deltans just had sex with each other at the drop of a hat and it was normal for them. Being promiscuous is one thing, but the idea that you’d go into, say, a business meeting and do something sexual as a form of greeting is, well, strange and, frankly, sounds more than a little exhausting.) Chekov got promoted to chief security officer and Nurse Chapel, played by Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett, was promoted to doctor. When Leonard Nimoy refused to return to the daily makeup routine that Spock called for, Roddenberry created a replacement in Xon, a full-blooded Vulcan science officer who instead of trying to control his emotional side like Spock sought to discover that side of himself as a way to better work with and relate to his crew mates. (If any of this sounds familiar, just change the names of Decker, Ilia and Xon to Riker, Troi and Data, and you’ve got half the crew set for Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

The success of Star Wars lit a fire under Paramount, which invested a lot in developing Star Trek: Phase II. What’s especially interesting is that the show never had a chance. Announced in the summer of 1977, it was clear by early August that Paramount’s fourth network didn’t have the support to ever get off the ground. In the book Star Trek: Phase II — The Lost Series, the Reeves-Stevens write that Paramount’s then chief Michael Eisner decided in a meeting Aug. 3 that the pitch for the pilot “In Thy Image” was feature worthy and in that moment the series was dead. But it was a secret kept in that meeting for four long months, during which time scripts were written that would never be produced and sets half-built while behind-the-scenes machinations progressed on the real project, which was the feature. The great expense was apparently justified by the idea that if Paramount decided a year after the feature to return to TV, they’d have a dozen scripts already in the can and ready to go.

Meanwhile, the production cast Stephen Collins as Decker, Persis Khambatta as Ilia and David Gautreax as Xon. Coming on as director was Robert Wise, a true Hollywood legend who started as an editor on Citizen Kane before directing such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Heck, even Leonard Nimoy agreed to come back, demoting Gautreaux to a cameo as the commander of the Epsilon 9 station in the final movie.

Leonard Nimoy, Robert Wise, Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley and William Shatner on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It looked at this point like a feature would be smooth sailing, but the production was anything but. The script, first and foremost, needed to be updated to work as a feature. Veteran TV writer Harold Livingston was brought on board and began running afoul of Roddenberry, who constantly interfered in the scripting process by poorly rewriting pages that didn’t need it and setting everything back with substandard work. Livingston quit and was re-hired several times by Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Roddenberry, it seems, was trying to earn a screenplay credit by any means necessary, with his rewrites providing evidence he could submit to the WGA to earn that credit — and the money that came with it. (Roddenberry pulled a similar stunt with original series composer Alexander Courage, writing lyrics to the show’s theme song that were never meant to be used as a way to earn half the writing credit and therefore half the royalties from the tune. Courage never again worked on Star Trek.) Final writing credits went to Foster for story and Livingston for screenplay. You can read one version of the script here.

So production began without a finished script, which is never a good idea. With the movie shot almost exclusively on sound stages, production proceeded largely in story order. That explains why the movie’s plot is so vague for so long, treading water with lengthy re-introductions of the crew members and the USS Enterprise. DeForest Kelley’s Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, as usual, point out the idiocy of this with one of the movie’s best lines: “Why is any object we don’t understand always called a thing?”

At some point, clauses in the contracts of Shatner and Nimoy kicked in to give them story approval, so production slowed down again as everyone tried to figure out an ending to the movie. There were reportedly days where scenes were written in the morning for the cast and crew to shoot later that day.

The ending they did come up with is actually pretty good, though the middle of the movie is a serious slog. The alien object is revealed to be Earth’s primitive Voyager 6 probe, given the ability by an advanced race of alien machines to complete it mission of gathering all data possible and returning it to its creator. Along the way, it amassed so much data it became sentient. But it lacks the emotional side it needs to move to the next level. So V’ger seeks to merge with its creator, which it does with Decker, and moves into the next realms.

Enterprise o'er V'Ger
The USS Enterprise hovers over the surface of V’ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Having finished principal photography, Star Trek: The Motion Picture moved into its next disastrous phase: creating the visual effects. Again, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had pushed visual effects to a new level and shown their storytelling potential. And in the wake of Luke Skywalker’s rush down the Death Star trench, there was no way effects like those used on the original Star Trek series or on more recent efforts like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Space: 1999 were going to cut it. But George Lucas and his team at ILM, which created those effects and innovated those techniques, were working on The Empire Strikes Back. That meant Star Trek: The Motion Picture had to go elsewhere to find work that lived up to that level — a very tall order.

By all accounts, the original effects team, Robert Abel & Associates, spent somewhere north of a million dollars and had produced almost no usable footage. Adding to the pressure, Paramount pre-sold the movie to exhibitors, who had forked over significant advances for the right to screen the finished movie on Dec. 7, 1979. That money had helped Paramount finance the movie, but it also meant the release date couldn’t budge. It was a mad scramble to finish the movie and several important shots and major sequences got lost in the shuffle.

Wise also was battling the studio over the final cut of the film, with the studio pushing a version that featured more of the expensive VFX it was paying for while Wise was trying to balance the story. The mad race to finish the movie left Wise without a chance to test screen the movie with an audience, which he said for years afterward would have helped improve the balance of VFX spectacle and story.

In a scene cut from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, William Shatner’s Kirk is attacked by unknown particles while exploring V’ger in a space suit.

Standing out as a triumph amid this scramble is the iconic score composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Reportedly, Goldsmith’s original score was found lacking by Roddenberry, Wise and the Paramount brass. They wanted a triumphant theme along the lines of John Williams’ score for — you guessed it — Star Wars. Goldsmith came up with a theme on the spot that satisfied everyone and went on to become an iconic part of Trek’s musical history, returning in subsequent features and as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Finishing the film truly came down to the wire. Final effects sequences were cut by hand into each individual print of the movie on a Paramount soundstage occupied by hundreds of film canisters waiting to be shipped out. Wise himself carried the print shown at the Washington, D.C., premiere with him on his flight out of Los Angeles.

Fan reaction could be summed up as disappointed but grateful for the movie’s existence. The box office results were not in Star Wars territory, but they did reveal an audience existed for Star Trek. And the movie turned a profit despite the studio calculating a then-record production budget of $44 million that — fair or not — included all the development costs of Star Trek: Phase II and likely all the way back to the early 1970s.

That success opened the door for more Star Trek, albeit versions that were much less extravagant.

Next: Is the movie any good? And why?

Byrne’s The High Ways veers off course

John Byrne is at his best when he’s doing science fiction. Take Next Men as the ultimate example. That series followed the old-school rules of science fiction, by setting its premise and following through as realistically as possible. Byrne’s affection for classic Star Trek (i.e., the good stuff, not the recent reboot flicks from Jar Jar Abrams) and its attempts very early on to be the TV version of classic science fiction literature is obvious.

A lot of that drives The High Ways (IDW, $3.99 each) a four-issue sci-fi series that should be better than it is. The story begins with rookie Eddie Wallace joining the crew of the space freighter Carol Anne, along with first mate Marilyn Jones and Captain Jack Cagney. After Wallace is appropriately initiated into space life (always wear your suit!) the Carol Anne heads out to pick up some cargo on Europa. That’s where the mystery begins, with a strange creature spotted outside the science base there and no cargo for Cagney to pick up.

What follows is an odd story with a bunch of twists and turns that end up feeling very random instead of satisfyingly twisty. This is the kind of story that attempts to avoid the common sci-fi criticism of scientific inaccuracy by being as scientifically realistic as possible. And it achieves that aspect of it, but in doing so it fails to give its characters any real personality or tell a story with sufficient emotion or reason for the reader to fully engage in this world.

Byrne’s art remains consistent and I still think no one draws spaceship-style tech stuff as well as he does. The storytelling is very solid and Byrne’s style has evolved over the years into something looser and more expressive than his classic 1970s and 1980s work on X-Men, Fantastic Four and Superman. It’s quite a nice change if you can just let go of expecting his work to have that same clean and pristine quality and just enjoy it for what it is, and what it is is some damn fine drawing.

I would check out a sequel to The High Ways — I think there is something in the approach and style. A more engaging story could build this up into something really cool.

Comics Wandering: From Gold Key Star Trek, to Howard Chaykin and more

Wow, time sure flies when you’re too busy to read comics. What have I been doing? Well, I’ve got a toddler, a new puppy, I did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles for the just-concluded awards season, tried brewing beer, and I’ve been focusing on learning to play the guitar well enough that it doesn’t sound like a chainsaw cutting through a chain-link fence. I also made a guitar from a kit — a Lake Placid Blue Telecaster style that, after much tweaking and adjustment, is at last starting to play well.

And I have been reading comics, when there’s time and comics I want to read. It’s just been very inconsistent reading and a bit of an oddball selection compared to the weekly superhero habit. I am finding the overall comics habit is very hard to break, if not impossible for me to break at this point in my life. I admit to slipping back into some old habits, but I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

I admit it: My name is Tom and I’m a comic-holic. I especially still love single issue comics. The collecting part of the hobby remains one that I find satisfying in a way that reading a collected edition is not. This isn’t true for everything, but it is for things like superhero comics, which are still written and drawn for the serial comic format, no matter how quickly they got to collected editions.

So, what have I been reading? Lots of Image comics, which for all the variations in the quality of its output, remains the only dependably creative publisher of mainstream superhero, adventure and genre comics.

I’ll just run down some of the cool stuff I’ve read and liked since my last, long-ago post to this blog. I will be unsurprised if no one is reading or still checking this blog, but just in case there’s a few of you out there, thank you! If you’re new, please be sure to check out my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, available in print from Amazon and on Kindle.

Last summer, I had two comic book pursuits, both inspired during a trip to the excellent Queen City Comics in Cincinnati, Ohio. First was completing my collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics, which I now have done. I have been a Star Trek fan ever since I first saw the show in the fall of 1975, when ITV began re-running the series weekdays at the perfect hour for me to catch it after coming home from a hard day in Grade 1. As a kid, I remember buying a few issues of the Gold Key series off the stands, but it never impressed me very much. I thought the stories were silly, such as issue #46 (Aug. 1977), in which aliens gave Spock a giant brain and he became slightly villainous before Kirk talked him down.

I got into Trek comics much more seriously in the late 1980s, when DC started publishing its second ongoing Star Trek series and launched a regular series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TV, The Next Generation was really kicking into high gear and I just fell right into being a pretty serious Trek fan for the next seven or eight years. In addition to collecting all of the DC output from that point on, as well as the Malibu Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stuff, I collected all the previous DC series, the Marvel series and made a pretty good start on the Gold Key series. My interest in Star Trek peaked by the mid-1990s, and Marvel’s second round of Trek comics just was not very good, in my opinion. (Remember the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers? Yikes.)

Cut to about 10 years ago, when a friend of my Dad’s had come across a large collection of comics from his parents‘ old book shop and set about sorting them and selling them on eBay. He reached out to me right at the start because he knew nothing about comics, so I helped him with the basics about getting an Overstreet guide, conventions and what to really expect from eBay sales. In thanks, he let me pick out some stuff when I was over visiting and came across a near-complete set of the Gold Key Star Treks. These were easily accessible and time was short, so I took them as compensation and was very pleased. I still had a few holes, though, and would every once in a while fill one in when I came across an issue I needed in a shop or convention.

But this past summer, when I hit Queen City Comics, they had pretty much all but two or three of the issues The prices and conditions where great, so I bit the bullet and bought them. That lead to me heading onto eBay to fill in the last two or three issues I needed, and finally the last issue — #9, with the photo cover of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” — arrived to complete the set. These are cool comics and I really dig them now in a way I did not twenty or so years ago. Yes, they’re goofy and at times completely contradictory to the show itself, but they have a unique energy and the art is often terrific. Plus, I still enjoy the tactile experience of reading an old comic printed on slightly yellowed newsprint.

My second summer comics pursuit involved the works of Howard Chaykin. This pursuit also started at Queen City, where I found mint condition copies of both Time2 graphic novels and the Epic collected edition, The Complete Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which I had never even heard of before seeing it in the bin. All were cover price, and I scooped them right up. I also found a few other 1970s Chaykin bits, including the Monark Starstalker issue of Marvel Premiere (which I wrote about last summer) and a couple of Dominic Fortune tales. Chaykin’s art has always been a joy, especially when he’s doing painted work printed on high quality paper.

Along with this came The Art of Howard Chaykin, written by Robert Greenberger and published by the nice folks at Dynamite! (As an aside: Greenberger used to edit the DC Star Trek comics and printed a couple of my letters way back when. I always thought, based on his thoughtful letter columns, he was one of the most professional and likable editors in the business.) I worked my way through these books and really enjoyed them, following them up with a few digs into the archives for some other Chaykin stuff from the 1990s, such as Midnight Men and Power and Glory.

The Time2 books were especially fascinating. I found the plot a bit hard to follow on my first read, even though I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about the books. After reading the Greenberger book with Chaykin saying it was heavily influenced by his interest in jazz music of the 1930s, it made a lot more sense and my second reading was even more enjoyable.

During my one convention visit last year, to the Long Beach Comic Con, I stopped by and chatted with Chaykin — who I had met a number of times over the past ten years — and chatted with him about the books. The Stars My Destination is a really interesting adaptation. I had read the novel years and years ago and remembered a bit about it but it hadn’t made the deep impression on me that Frank Herbert’s Dune or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End had. I enjoyed (and surely understood) much more of the book as an adult, and really dug Chaykin’s interpretation of it. You can’t go wrong with a couple hundred pages of painted Chaykin art from the late 1970s.

And then, there’s Black Kiss 2. I waited until all six issues were out before sitting down to read this and was happily surprised with how great it was. It’s been a long time since I read the original Black Kiss (I have it in single issues and a collected edition — somewhere) but I remembered enough for this to make sense. It’s both a prequel and a sequel to the original, and it jumps around through a lot of different time periods that allow Chaykin to draw all the stuff he likes and/or is good at — cars, cityscapes, men’s fashion, jazz musicians and, of course, lots of dirty, dirty sex. All in crisp, beautiful black and white! I don’t know if the climax of the book was as satisfying as it could have been, but the ride was definitely worth it.

I haven’t read anything in the past year from DC’s The New 52 because it just plain fails to interest me in any way. I liked a few of the series at the start, but the way series suffered sometimes radical, unexplained, and usually arbitrary changes in tone, premise and creative teams debunked any true creative rationale for the relaunch. It made for a great jumping off point, and I’ve not missed any of those comics or characters. I keep hearing how great Batman is these days, and I am sure it is good because they do have some good creators on those books and Batman is far and away DC’s best character. But I still find myself uninterested. Having read so many good (and bad) Batman stories, it’s almost like my brain has no more room for Batman comics unless they’re truly outstanding, i.e. true classics in the making, on a par with Batman: Year One or the great Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations of the now-distant past.

I was always more of a Marvel fan, so my feelings for Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular are much more complicated and deserving of a post all its own.

A few more comics I’ve read and liked include Saga, Thief of Thieves, Grant Morrison’s Happy!, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, Harbinger, The Massive, the new Star Wars ongoing from Dark Horse, John Byrne’s new sci-fi series High Ways, The End Times of Bram and Ben, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive, and my favorite new comic in the last year, Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo’s Great Pacific. I’ll try to go into more detail on those in another post.

Here’s hoping it won’t be six months until I write it. Cheers!

Last issues: Star Trek #61 and Marvel Team-Up #150

For some reason, I’ve always found final issues of comic book series to be of particular interest, especially ones from the pre-Internet, pre-fan press days. I’m always curious to see if there was any kind of attempt to wrap up the series creatively, or whether there was any kind of notice or explanation to readers that the book was going away.

Here is a couple of examples:

Star Trek #61 (Gold Key)

Star Trek #61 (March 1979) was the final issue of the original Trek comics series, published from 1967-1979 by Gold Key. I’ve long been a huge Trek fan and have all but eight issues from this series. (I’m missing 9-11, 14-16 and 58-59, in case anyone is interested in selling to me.) The Gold Key series was a real mixed bag. Some issues featured stories that deviated so radically from the Star Trek style that they are Trek in name only. Others, especially the later issues, were much better. They always featured nice art and, except for a couple issues like this particular one, very cool painted or photo covers. Also, there were no issue numbers on the cover, at least until this issue.

Marvel had long wanted the rights to do Star Trek comics, but was unable to get them away from Gold Key. That changed when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in late 1979. Paramount was looking to emulate the success of Star Wars with the picture, and Marvel was by this point looking like a pretty hot partner for this kind of licensing given the huge success of its Star Wars comic. So the plug was pulled on the Gold Key series, with this being the last one.

The story by George Kashdan is pretty entertaining. The Enterprise and the Klingons are both looking to secure a source of dilithium from an alien planet. The mysterious leader of the planet strikes a deal first with the Klingons. Kirk’s not pleased by this, and he’s even less pleased when Spock finds out this dilithium is synthetic and therefore highly unstable. The mysterious leader is revealed to be Harry Mudd, whose scam now threatens to destroy the Klingons’ vessel and start a war between the and the Federation — unless Kirk can stop it. The art by Al McWilliams is nice and polished — it’s clear and attractive and tells the story simply in that Gold Key style. It’s a really fun Trek comic.

And there’s absolutely no indication that it’s the last issue of the title. There’s no letters page, no blurb on the cover, no nothing. I’ve read online that a script exists for issue 62, so the end obviously came quickly for Gold Key’s version of Star Trek.

Marvel Team-Up #150 (Marvel)

Going in the completely opposite direction is Marvel Team-Up #150 (Feb. 1985), which alters the logo to read “The Last Marvel Team-Up,” and features a dejected Spidey in the corner box. The cover itself is a great Barry Windsor-Smith portrait of Spidey and the X-Men as they follow the cover blurbs’ advice and observe “A moment’s silence … before the action begins — .”

The story itself isn’t exactly an obvious finale. Written by Louise Simonson, the story sees Juggernaut go after the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak so he can give it (and Juggernaut powers) to his pal Black Tom Cassidy on his birthday. Black Tom is less than thrilled, and chaos ensues as both Spidey and the X-Men get involved in stopping the destruction. It’s a solid, mid-1980s Marvel comic, which means it has an actual story, competent and clear art from Greg LaRocque and Mike Esposito, and a lot of action. (All things Marvel should think about putting in its current releases.)

There is a blurb on the letters page from editor Danny Fingeroth announcing that MTU is indeed ending, but will be replaced by a new series called The Web of Spider-Man in six weeks. Of course, the “The” was dropped, and Web had a long life of its own.

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