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…where several publishers have gone before.  As IDW’s maiden voyage of Star Trek launches, Broken Frontier examines the property’s comic book journey.

Gold Key, an imprint that largely focused on licensed properties, was the first to produce a Star Trek comic.  The debut issue had a cover date of July 1967, released about a year after Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi series launched on NBC.  The Gold Key series was published sporadically during the first run of the TV show, not adopting a semi-regular schedule until 1971.  As was often the case during the time, many of the early Gold Key creators were not credited, although later contributors included the likes of Len Wein and Arnold Drake. 

The series, as one of the few sources for new Star Trek tales during the 1970s, holds a unique place in the history of the franchise.  Although based on the source TV series, both the writing and the art styles are quite different from the modern day trappings of the property (it wasn’t uncommon for the Enterprise to use it’s rockets to destroy a planet, or for Scotty to be portrayed as a young blond man).  Despite these eccentricities, the core relationships among Kirk, Spock and McCoy remained intact, while cannon characters such as Harry Mudd and Zefram Cochrane appeared in various issues.  The series finally bowed out in 1979 after 61 issues, a full decade after the TV show was cancelled.

By this point, a revival of the Star Trek franchise (in the form of 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture), led Marvel Comics to acquire the license.  Launching in early 1980, the Marvel series began with a 3-part adaptation of The Motion Picture by Marv Wolfman, Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson.  Subsequent issues, featuring the creative talents of Mike W. Barr, Martin Pasko and Luke McDonnel, were all set following the events of the Trek movie (reportedly, the license restricted Marvel from using any characters or concepts that did not appear in the film). 

Marvel approached their Star Trek comic in a manner consistent with their handling of early Star Wars – mixing fantastical situations with the science fiction environment and imbuing the stories with an “over-the-top” flair.  Just as the Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s reception was mixed, the Marvel series did not gain a strong following.   Shortly before the release of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, which featured a dramatically different tone and style from it’s cinematic predecessor, the Marvel Comics series was cancelled after a scant 18 issues. 

DC Comics was the third publisher to license Star Trek, launching a new series in 1984.  The first series to be relatively unencumbered by restrictions, Mike W. Barr (along with artists Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran) were free to tap not only the core characters, but also ones from the TV series and cartoons, as well as original creations.  The first eight issues were set after The Wrath of Khan, following which the chronology moved to post Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  Issue 9 began a longer arc, re-introducing the popular Mirror Universe characters and saw Admiral James Kirk and the crew assigned to the USS Excelsior (following the destruction of the Enterprise in Trek III). 

        

As the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home drew near, Len Wein succeeded as writer, instigating a series of events that restored the cast to their positions at the end of Trek III.  Although Wein’s run was brief, he not only ushered in a new era for Star Trek comics, but also introduced Arex and M’Ress (from the animated series) into the cast, and brought back popular TV series foil, Harry Mudd.  Following Wein, Mike Carlin and Peter David both had runs on the title, before it was placed on hiatus with November 1988’s issue #56 (a fill-in issue by Martin Pasko, flashing back to the original 5-year mission). 

DC’s Star Trek franchise returned in late 1989, as one of their “New Format” books (featuring a higher grade of paper and printing).  Peter David was back as writer, although revised conditions to the license resulted in the first series continuity being ignored.  At the same time, an ongoing Star Trek: The Next Generation comic launched under the guiding hand of Trek novelist, Michael Jan Friedman (the year prior, DC had published a 6-issue Next Generation mini-series, written by Mike Carlin). 

Although DC had published a number of specials, annuals and spin-off mini-series during their first run with Star Trek, a pair of series they released in 1991 were of particular interest.  Star Trek: The Modula Imperative (by Michael Jan Friedman) was set during the second season of the original Star Trek series, in which Kirk and his crew make first contact with alien civilization.  Immediately following it, Peter David penned Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Modala Imperative, teaming an aged Spock and McCoy with Picard’s crew as they investigated a disturbance on the same world. 

In 1993, Star Trek expanded further, with the debut of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  The same year, Paramount Pictures divided the Trek license, giving the rights for DSN to Malibu Comics, a California based publisher.  Even with the Star Trek license spread over two companies, Deep Space Nine and The New Generation comics followed their TV counterparts, with a crossover co-produced by DC and Malibu in 1994.  By this time, the landscape of the comic book publishing industry was beginning to shift dramatically.  1994 saw Marvel Comics purchase Malibu, although they maintained it (and, by extension, the Deep Space Nine comic) as a separate entity from Marvel proper.

        

In 1996 however, Paramount and Marvel struck a deal that unified the Star Trek comic line.  Both DC Star Trek series were cancelled with issue #80, while Malibu’s Deep Space Nine concluded with issue #32.   At the end of the year, Star Trek returned to Marvel Comics with a trio of new series; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager (based on the new TV series that launched in 1995) and Star Trek Unlimited (an anthology book featuring both the Next Generation and original series cast). 

Over the next several months, Marvel continued to expanded the line, adding Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (a Marvel original series that was spun-off from DSN), Star Trek: The Early Voyages (another Marvel original, featuring the Captain Pike and the crew from the original pilot for Star Trek) and a pair of one-shots that teamed Star Trek characters with Marvel’s X-Men.  In 1998, Marvel also tried a mini-series set between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, entitled Untold Voyages. 

Unfortunately, by this time, the comic book boom of the 1990’s had collapsed.  With the number of consumer dollars consistently shrinking, talent pools dwindling, the line stretched too thin and new restrictions from Paramount, Marvel cancelled the entire line in the summer of 1998.

        

In 2000, Star Trek quietly returned to DC as part of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint.  This time, there were no ongoing Trek comics, but rather a number of stand-alone issues and mini-series, primarily focusing on The Next Generation era, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  Just as it had arrived at Wildstorm, so to did Star Trek fade away when the license lapsed in 2002.  It finally returned in 2006, although from an unlikely source.  Produced by Tokyopop, Star Trek: The Manga featured a collection of eclectic talent, telling original Star Trek tales, in an Eastern inspired format.

For Star Trek’s 40th anniversary, the comic license has return to more traditional roots.  This time, IDW Publishing will take the helm with the 6-issue Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between.  Following the January debut of this series, IDW has plans for a series focusing on the original crew, although an exact launch has not been announced. IDW Publisher Chris Ryall has also hinted at something relating to the as-of-yet untitled Star Trek film expected in 2008.

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