Getting Up to Warp Speed: Gold Key’s STAR TREK Comics, Part III

For Those Who Came In Late: We’ve been discussing the STAR TREK comics published by Gold Key for the last couple of weeks, from their less than auspicious beginnings to the later development into some fun, (albeit occasionally goofy) TREK tales. In this week’s installment, we’ll take a look at a few highlights from the middle of the series run, and end with a sneak peek at the reason we’ve been talking about TREK to begin with. Let’s get started.

The Enterprise crew’s emotions run away with them in STAR TREK #11 (August 1971), in “The Brain Shockers,” when some bottled-up Vulcan emotions being transported by the Enterprise to their new home on a shrine on Planet Beta IV are accidentally released into the crew members, prompting them to begin tearing into each other in emotional fits until they get wise to what’s going on. The best thing about the issue, though, is the revelation of who released the bottled-up Vulcan emotions: an immortal alien named Malok, locked in a plastic bubble for five thousand years and desperate for amusement.


Nothing like a good, reliable old-school Bug-Eyed Monster to spice up your story, eh? After a stirring soliloquy for Mr. Spock in which he exorcises the demon emotion within him, he frees the rest of the crew from Malok’s control by busting into the dome and rewiring Malok’s mind-control machine, draining the Vulcan emotions from the crew’s bodies and bottling them up inside Malok himself, leaving him an immortal manic-depressive on a near-cosmic scale.


Seems a little harsh to me.

Kirk and Company are hot on the trail of some stolen dilithium crystals in “The Flight of the Buccaneer,” in STAR TREK #12 (November 1971), in which the scourge of piracy has returned, complete with pirate-ship-shaped starships (hoisting curiously useless sails, mind you) that plunder the galaxy for, well, space booty, I’d imagine.


In order to infiltrate the pirates responsible, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty are forced to live the pirate lifestyle, complete with daggers, earrings, cutlasses and baggy pants.


Why exactly pirate fashion returned in vogue is never quite explained. On the planet Tortuga, the crew hooks up with Black Jack Nova’s gang, gaining the pirate’s trust after engaging in a brawl down at the local tavern.

Unfortunately, when Spock and Scotty are overheard talking about their mission for the Federation, Kirk is forced to out them as spies, and the two are sentenced to walk the plank. The space-plank, that is:


Luckily for them, the Enterprise, following Black Jack’s ship under the cover of the stolen Romulan cloaking device, is able to beam them up before they run out of oxygen.

Eventually, it all comes down to an “electron cutlass” duel between Kirk and Black Jack. When Jack tries to make his escape, a desperate Kirk hurls his sword and pierces the generator tubes of Jack’s ship, and boom! — so much for the space pirates.


Another old reliable plot device, that of the evil twin, is rehashed in STAR TREK #14 (May 1972), “The Enterprise Mutiny,” While on a mission to deliver a fussy alien ambassador back to his homeworld, an increasingly erratic Captain Kirk begins alarming the crew, starting with mere verbal abuse, then going so far as to blast Scotty in the back with a phaser for refusing to push the ship’s engines to hazardous levels. When McCoy and Spock request that Kirk relinquish command, he goes on a mad phaser-firing rampage through the corridors of the Enterprise before fleeing the ship in a shuttlecraft. As it turned out, Spock had deduced that the ranting maniac Kirk was an impostor, and planted a tracer in the shuttlecraft, allowing the Enterprise to follow the fake back to where the real Kirk was being kept, and the masterminds behind it all: Klingons!


Of course, they don’t look like any Klingons we’ve ever seen, with their bald heads, tank tops and short-shorts, but that’s par for the course for Gold Key. Couldn’t somebody have gotten artist Alberto Giolitti some STAR TREK View-Master slides or something? I know this was before the age of video, but come on! Maybe even just a photo, for pete’s sake?

Naturally, Spock uses the old Vulcan logic to deduce which Kirk is the genuine article: when the phoney Kirk orders Spock to kill his double, Spock knows he’s the impostor and gives him a dose of some phaser justice:


The Klingons would reappear in the very next issue, STAR TREK #15 (August 1972), “The Museum at the End of Time,” in which the Enterprise and a Klingon Cruiser are caught in an otherdimensional netherworld along with a passel of other starships lost through the ages. Although the Klingons still don’t quite look right, at least they’ve got the correct ship, and are sporting the de rigeur Klingon haircuts and facial hair.


The Gold Key TREK comics would occasionally run two- or three-page backup stories in the book, usually a lighter-toned comedy piece or a bit of history. Unfortunately, I can’t find the one I remember so clearly reading as a kid, a Federation background file on Mr. Spock which detailed the other Vulcan kids taunting L’il Spock on the schoolyard for his half-human heritage, chanting in unison “Spock! Spock! Your head’s an Earth rock!” Kids can be so cruel. Extra amusing to me was the idea that since these were Vulcan kids, their taunting should sound completely calm, measured and logical.

But I digress. Anyway, here’s an example of one of these backups, the Starfleet “PSYCHO-FILE” on James T. Kirk. The file (none of which was later declared official by susbsequent TREK films, TV series or books, I don’t believe) reveals Kirk’s father’s role as a hero in the war against the Klingons, and details his early days at Starfleeet Academy, struggling to fit in due to his unorthodox appointment, thanks to his father’s sacrifice:


The story also detailed his first encounter with Spock and Scotty, and the surprising way Kirk won his engineer’s respect:


Nothing earth-shattering here, I’ll grant you, but a fun little bit of characterization.

The crew encounters a planet of Spock-worshippers in STAR TREK #17 (1972), in “The Cosmic Cavemen.”


The story doesn’t quite live up to the image here, with the villagers receiving the telepathic image of Spock from an alien creature Spock was fighting worlds away, but there is a nice bit toward the end with Spock using the transporter to convince them of his omnipotent nature.

Spock gets a taste of romance in “The Hijacked Planet” from STAR TREK #18 (1973), in which the science officer is duped by a beautiful cabaret singer, to allow her partner to steal an entire planet and its people, which had been magnetically recorded to tape to allow it to be moved away from its flaring sun. When a captured Spock is pressed into service by the singer’s brother to restore the planet’s richest men in order to play a ransom for the planet, he makes use of a little ancient strategy to arrange for reinforcements.


Sure, things would still occasionally get a little silly, such as when the Enterpise would encounter space mummies…


…or when Spock and McCoy transfer their brains into robot bodies…


…but you’d be just as likely to get a real gem like “The Haunted Asteroid,” from STAR TREK #19 (July 1973).


Here the Enterpise crew (including a beautiful but admittedly skittish Federation scientist) look into the mystery of Asteroid Mila Xa, an artificial planetoid built as a memorial by an emperor to his murdered bride. For centuries graverobbers and thieves have tried to access the shrine in search of rumored treasure, only to never return, or else come back hopelessly insane. When a Starfleet field agent (who happens to be an old friend of Kirk’s) is dispatched to investigate, he returns with an entire day wiped from his memory. Under “psycho-probe,” he recalls encountering a ghost, then panics from fright.

Naturally, Kirk and company beam down to the asteroid, where they discover spectral images and, one by one, begin to disappear.


A word about the art here: artist Nevio Zacarra (at least I think it’s Zacarra; the uncredited art certainly doesn’t look like that of Giolitti) makes use of some angular, flowing linework in his renditions of the ghosts and of Dr. Krisp, the Federation scientist, that’s very striking, and unlike anything we’ve seen in the book to this point. It gives the whole issue a unique, distinct, almost off-putting quality that serves the “ghost story” well. I remember it having an effect on me as a kid, being one of the few stories in these books that genuinely creeped me out.

Anyway, the kidnappings turn out to be the work of robots, under the control of the purportedly dead Queen. It turns out that she hadn’t been murdered at all, but was in actuality a genetic freak of nature, doomed to an unnaturally long life.


Kirk and the others manage to escape just before she finally dies of old age, taking the asteroid with her.

There are plenty more good TREK tales in this Gold Key run that I don’t have the space to get into here. For the longest time, getting ahold of these comics was a tricky proposition; tracking down either the pricey originals or the hard-to-find ’70s collections was no easy task. Thankfully, the good folks at Checker Book Publishing Group are looking out for us, acquiring the reprint rights for the Gold Key run. So far, five trade paperback volumes of STAR TREK: THE KEY COLLECTION have seen publication, collecting the first 40 or so issues in all, in gorgeous, full-color reproductions. Highly recommended.

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