When last we convened, we were discussing the first STAR TREK comic book to see release, the fondly remembered if occasionally less than authentic series published by Gold Key. Last time, we took a look at the wildly inaccurate but still goofily entertaining first issue. Let’s pick up where they left off and see where it goes from there, shall we?
One thing you can say about Gold Key as a publisher: they certainly weren’t slaves to the calendar. A full nine months transpired between the first and second issues of their STAR TREK series, time which was apparently sent sending Super-8 films of TREK episodes to Italy, because by issue #2, things did look a lot more like Star Trek. The uniforms were much more accurate, and the likenesses, while not dead-on, were at least recognizable. As for the stories, well, they immediately took advantage of some of the things comics can offer that the TV show never could, such as more outlandish aliens. Take for example Targu, one of the interplanetary criminals marooned on a prison planet in “The Devil’s Isle of Space” in issue #2.
This issue also featured a nice bit of Vulcan logic by Spock, proving that someone who had seen the show was actually writing it now, as Spock reasons his way through a rationale for disobeying one of Kirk’s orders:
It’s also pretty hard-edged (although not quite as bad as last issue’s leafy-green genocide), as the crew takes the Prime Directive of non-interference to the letter, abandoning Targu and his fellow prisoners to their doom when their asteroid explodes, carrying out their people’s system of justice.
Of course, there was still the occasional foul-up, such as this scene from issue #3, which not only shows the Enterprise flying in a planet’s atmosphere, but also shows flames shooting out of the ship’s nacelles:
Sometimes themes or concepts from the series were repeated such as in issue #4 (June 1969), “The Peril of Planet Quick Change,” in which alien beings take over Spock’s body so as to use his hands to help save their world. The task accomplished, the beings depart, or so it is thought.
One of the aliens elects to stay in Spock’s body, wanting to see the galaxy through Spock’s eyes, and prevents him from telling Kirk or anyone else about his dilemma. In a clever bit that anticipates several uses of the same device on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, Spock uses the transporter to force the alien to leave his body.
There’s even a nice bit of banter at the end between Spock and McCoy.
Every now and then, the book would just take a left turn into weird, such as in issue #7 (March 1970), “The Voodoo Planet,” in which the crew of the Enterprise discover what appears to be an exact replica of Earth, though completely empty. And not so exact, as it turns out. When Kirk and Spock investigate (once more wearing their Federation-issue backpacks, I don’t know what the deal was with these Italian artists, but they always wanted to put backpacks on Kirk and Spock. Maybe it’s a European thing. Go figure), they discover not only are the cities much smaller than the originals, they’re also constructed of papier-mache, a fact they learn when the Eiffel Tower comes crashing down around them:
Even stranger, when they return to the ship, they discover that back on Earth, the real Eiffel Tower has also crumpled to the ground. When a laser beam strikes the papier-mache Colosseum in Rome, and the real Colosseum is destroyed as well, they put two and two together, and track down the source of the laser beam: Count Dressler, the last of Earth’s tyrant madmen, who fled the planet when his plans to create atomic weapons on Earth was thwarted by the world’s governments. Fleeing Earth justice, he discovered the Voodoo Planet, where he learned their voodoo rites and began his plan to force Earth to grant him amnesty by destroying it from afar. And to prove his point, he takes down the Sphinx and the Leaning Tower of Pisa for good measure.
After Kirk and Spock escape from Dressler’s prison cell, Spock does a little research and discovers a Vulcan occult practice called “paincasters” that is very similar to Dressler’s voodoo. Spock is able to simulate Dressler’s powers and grant them to himself and Kirk; which is good, since Dressler is making pincushions of his Kirk and Spock dolls back at his lair. Kirk and Spock head back and try to give him a taste of his own medicine, but forget that since they’re immune, so he would be too.
Dressler runs for it, but they grab him up and take him in for trial (one assumes — although from the sound of it, one is left with the impression that Kirk is going to pull another “Khan Noonien Singh” and just drop him off on some unpopulated planet. Hope he didn’t make a habit of that.)
Is all this awfully silly? Sure, but to be honest, no more so than some of the original Trek episodes. Compared to the gangster planet or the invasion of the Enterprise by hippies, this one seems almost a little sedate. Besides, the art is good and has vastly improved from the debut, and the characterization is pretty faithful. Like I said, I really think these comics get a bit of a bad rap.
As of February 1971, regular artist Alberto Giolitti was joined by a new collaborator, writer Len Wein whose work here came well before the bulk of his more famous work for Marvel and DC, but already shows his good ear for dialogue and inventive plotting. Also, Wein was a Trek fan, and it showed, because even more elements from the series began to show up, such as Lt. Uhura, and even a Klingon or two. One of my favorites in Wein’s run (and I’m assuming it’s Wein, since the stories are uncredited, but it definitely feels like it to me) comes in STAR TREK #9 (February 1971), “The Legacy of Lazarus” which definitely has the slightly cheesy, fun feel of a Classic episode while taking advantage of the comic-book medium in scope and detail. The Enterprise crew explores planet Gamma Alpha V, and discovers a highly advanced city populated by scores of historical figures from Earth’s past, everyone from George Washington to Helen of Troy to Nero to Abe Lincoln (as well as, amusingly, Anton York, the 45th President of the United States, keeping up with Trek’s long pattern of introducing future history. I guess we should keep our eyes peeled for Mr. York’s emergence on the political scene in 2016 or so…).
There’s a good visual joke here when McCoy speculates that perhaps they’re in heaven, only for Kirk to point out some compelling evidence to the contrary:
Giolitti has a field day here with the historical portraits, getting his chance to draw everyone from Churchill to Cleopatra to Hitler alongside Kirk and Spock. Speaking of Spock, he’s soon thunked on the head and kidnapped by the man behind it all, ostracized Earth historian Alexander Lazarus, who skipped the planet with his army of androids after his big scientific project went kablooey, and then set up shop on Gamma Alpha V, where he invented a computer capable of receiving and recording the brainwaves of any person in history.
(Seems to me I’d go back with that bad boy and tell the scientific community to suck it. But that’s just me. ) Lazarus soon accidentally discovered a way to bond his androids with the historical consciousnesses he was recording, and eventually created his planet of living history.
So what’s the problem? Well, Lazarus has grown bored with human history, and decides to delve into a new subject: Vulcan history, a topic that requires that often-stolen piece of real estate known as Spock’s brain. In order to acclimate his machine to Vulcan brain patterns, Lazarus has to absorb a Vulcan brain as a template, and since Spock’s the only Vulcan in town, he’s elected. Meanwhile, Lazarus commands his historical mechanical to kill Kirk and the rest of the landing party, to prevent them from saving Spock.
Lazarus and Spock scuffle, and in the melee (which is pretty action-packed for a TREK comic, another reason I suspect Wein may be the writer), Lazarus is accidentally locked in his own brain-drain machine, reducing him to a mental vegetable.
The phaser blasts from Spock and Lazarus’ fight damaged Lazarus’ computer system , triggering a chain reaction that would eventually cause the planet to explode. Spock signals Scotty to beam the others up, and is he himself barely transported back to the ship before the planet blows up.
We’ll take a look at some more Gold Key Star Trek favorites next week, including — wait for it — some space pirate action:
Come on back, won’t you?