With the new movie a good year away and our favorite characters having made their way through both the wonderful Mirror Universe Saga as well as some other adventures, the cast is still on the Excelsior and on their mission to “test the ship out”, which gives us a chance to see several smaller adventures as opposed to the long saga that began this particular era of the title.
In the past, that might not have worked. After all, the Marvel Trek series took that approach and often misfired as it tried to be just a season of the television show without doing anything to take advantage of the different medium of comics. With DC, Star Trek started off strong with a couple of long-form storylines that were outstanding, so why go back to this particular formula?
Part if it is because there seems to be a constant creative shift at this time, with writers and editors changing. Marv Wolfman had been editing the book when it started in 1984, but 1985-1986 brought with it a number of changes for him, including Crisis on Infinite Earths, a revamp of Superman, and a move to California. It also saw him step down from various editorial duties he’d held since coming over to DC in the early 1980s. Barr takes over for a few issues and then editorial reins are given Bob Greenberger, who keeps the ship sailing straight [aside: I don’t know what the sales figures were on Star Trek at this time, but considering the series went for 56 issues and at the time was DC’s longest-running licensed property comic, I’d say they were fairly solid]. During this editoral run, there are stories by severl writers–Mike W. Barr, L.B. Kellogg, Paul Kupperberg, Walter Koenig (aka Mr. Chekov), Wennonah Woods, Bob Rozakis, Tony Isabella, Diane Duane (a well-known Star Trek novelist), and Greenberger himself–and therefore I have to give credit to those editorial efforts because with that many different writers, this could have gone completely off the rails.
I guess that it doesn’t hurt that with the exception of a couple of issues, Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran were the art team throughout the series, and while there’s the occasional awkward panel or drawing, they’re solid and consistent. They do what the Marvel series could not do, which is make the characters look their actual ages–this is a more mature, weathered Enterprise crew, one that has seen a lot of action and many of whom do not want to fade away. The Marvel book tended to make them look too young. But for all of that age, they never look stiff when you read the books. The series feels like Shatner and company are inheriting the pages (with Saavik kind of having her own look that’s sort of Kirstie Alley but if you added a dash of Jacklyn Smith). The guest spots are really good as well, and I’ll get to my favorite in the moment.
What we therefore have is, yes, a “new” Star Trek series, but it seems to have earned that in setting up the premise of putting the crew on Excelsior following the movie; however, unlike the Star Wars comic between Empire and Jedi, there wasn’t so much of an urgency for our characters because The Search for Spock didn’t end on that much of a cliffhanger. Oh yeah, we were wondering if they would get home okay and what retribution they might have to face, but it wasn’t as dire as the end of The Wrath of Khan. So we could, you know, just have adventures.
One unique aspect of this is the absence of Spock from the main crew’s tales. I don’t know if that was deliberate on the part of Paramount and DC or if it was something that Barr thought might be a good idea, but as Kirk heads up the crew on Excelsior, Spock is put in charge of a science vessel named the Surak and is given his own crew–one of whom keeps referring to him as a half-breed, which is a good idea for conflict among his crew, although it doesn’t always land. Anyway, Spock and that crew have a few solo adventures where they wind up in trouble while in the middle of whatever scientific exploration they’re in charge of, while we also have several solo adventure issues with Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov–some of which deal with things from their past. During this time, the writers also flesh out some of the characters that were exclusive to the DC series, including Bearclaw and Konom (the Klingon crew member).
They’re not all winners, of course. Diane Duane has a two-parter where Kirk and the crew “surrender” to two alien races–one that looks crustacean and one that looks like cats–in a very “Trouble With Tribbles” type of tale that didn’t quite land with me; and there’s a “Day in the Life of the Excelsior‘ story with constant red alerts due to drills that is not as funny as it tries to be.
But when the series is on, it’s on. Duane does a McCoy solo story with art by Gray Morrow that is an oustanding character piece with gorgeous art (Morrow also drew a Lois Lane miniseries around this time that’s gorgeous to look at) and Tony Isabella gives us a two-part sequel to the original series episode “Wolf in the Fold”, an episode I hadn’t seen in probably 30 years, so I couldn’t really tell you about it, but it was kind of fun. I also enjoyed the solo adventures of the other crew members–we get so focused on Kirk and Spock in the main series and movies that we often don’t get much fleshing out of characters like Sulu. That’s the type of stuff that can be done in this ancillary material, and I found it fun to read.
There are two annuals in here that are going to get their own post, and then I’m heading into about six more issues before the next “event’ in the Trek universe, which is the adaptation of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the series continues to prove that DC was definitely the right fit.