Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Star Trek #7 (Gold Key)

Oddly enough, I happen to own every Star Trek #7 ever published.  That is, every seventh issue of a comic series entitled simply Star Trek and featuring the exploits of a character named James Tiberius Kirk.  Since I reviewed the most recent one not too long ago, I thought I'd take a look back at the others, starting with the very first, from the first Star Trek comic book series, published by Gold Key.  I also have seventh issues of  some of the comics based on later iterations of Trek, and I may get to them as well.
Back in the mid-to-late 1960's, Gold Key seems to have been the go-to comics publisher for TV and movie adaptations.  They churned out four color versions of everything from well known classic series such as The Munsters to short-lived obscurities like The Governor & J.J.  For the most part, the books lasted less than a handful of issues; more often than not only one.  However, like Trek fandom itself, the Star Trek comic far out-lived the series. 61 issues were produced between 1967 and 1978, after which the license shifted to Marvel, which produced comics set after the first movie.
Gold Key's Star Trek appears to have been one of the first comic series to be collected in trade paperback form, as the four volumes of The Enterprise Logs.  In fact, Gold Key seems to have been a pioneer in placing comics in book stores and other non-traditional venues, such as the bagged three packs of Gold Key  and other publishers' books rebranded with the Whitman Comics ensignia which where sold to toystores. These innovations seem motivated mainly by desperation, as newstand sales steadily declined throughout the 70's. 
Enough history, then, let's get to the issue at hand.
Among Star Trek fans who've read any of it, myself included, there is a decided lack of love for the Gold Key comic series.  The few I've slogged through have been utter failures on every conceivable level.  They don't work as Star Trek, as science fiction, or even simply as stories.  I've heard that some of the later issues were written by Len Wein.  It's possible that those might be worth reading, as Wein wrote some excellent stories for DC's first Trek series.  I have no idea who wrote issue #7, as there are no credits, but he sure as hell is no Len Wein.  The story, "The Voodoo Planet," does have one saving grace, however.  It is, in places, absolutely hilarious.
Out in deep space, the Enterprise encounters an exact duplicate of Earth.  Kirk and Spock beam down to a city that looks like Paris, except that it is deserted and all the buildings, including a scaled down replica of the Eiffel Tower, are made of papier-mache.  A laser beam from out of nowhere destroys the papier-mache Eiffel Tower.  At the same time on Earth, the real Eiffel Tower collapses.  After the Roman Coliseum is destroyed in a similar manner, Kirk realizes that they are dealing with VOODOO.  Tracing the destructive beam to its source, the Enterprise comes to a planet surrounded by space debris.  Hiding the ship amongst the debris to escape detection, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet.  There they see primitive natives tossing spears at man shaped wooden cutouts and, in the distance, a building resembling an Earthly observatory which they conclude is the source of the voodoo beam.  Taking out the native guards, they enter the structure to discover a robed and hooded figure just as he presses the firing button on his laser, destroying the papier-mache Sphinx and its Earthly counterpart.
As Kirk and Spock move to apprehend the figure, two of the natives produce Kirk and Spock voodoo dolls into which they plunge huge pins, causing the captain and the vulcan to double over in pain. The robed man removes his hood and Kirk recognizes him as Count Dressler, a rogue dictator from Earth who eluded capture by escaping to the stars.
Strangely, in the flashback  panels accompanying Dressler's tale of how he came to be on the Voodoo Planet, the debris surrounding the planet isn't seen as his ship is shown approaching.  By the way, if the natives of this world are so primitive, where'd all that space junk come from, anyway?  Inconsistencies such as these appear throughout the issue.
Getting back to the story, such as it is, Dressler conquered the natives, learned their voodoo ways and set out to get his revenge on Earth.  He demonstrates for the caged Kirk and Spock (oh, I forgot to mention that they left McCoy standing guard outside) his voodoo ritual, which consists of chanting some nonsense syllables and drinking some strange green liquid, before destroying the Leaning Tower of Piza. McCoy sneaks in and frees Kirk and Spock and the three beam out.  Oddly, Dressler, an Earthman of Kirk's era, seems never to have seen or heard of a transporter, gasping, "Vanishing...before my very eyes! Incredible!" as the trio escape.
Back on the ship, Spock performs a ritual that gives him and Kirk ancient Vulcan voodoo powers to counter Dressler's.  They then beam back down to the planet and capture the mad dictator.  Instead of taking him back to Earth to face justice, however, Kirk takes it upon himself to sentence Dressler to exile on a deserted planet.
It is well known that the artist, Alberto Giolitti, who lived in Italy, had never seen Star Trek.  Giolitti apparently was provided with some reference photos, which he seems to have glanced at once or twice.  Some of the likenesses are just barely acceptable.  Spock and McCoy look like themselves in most panels, though Spock's ears are drawn way too big.  The character claiming to be Kirk, however, bears no resemblance whatsoever to William Shatner.  Giolitti doesn't get the uniforms quite right, either.  The collars are too high, the gold braids on the sleeves are missing in many panels, and the Starfleet insignia are absent throughout.  The outside of the ship is pretty much on model.  It appears, however, that Giolitti didn't get any photos of the inside of the ship, as absolutely nothing appears as it does on the show. Of course the most serious art mistake is that he draws flame and smoke coming out of the back of the warp nacelles as if they were rocket engines. 
It seems that the unknown writer of this issue hadn't seen the show either. I have referred to the characters in this story as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but they aren't really.  They neither speak nor act at all like their TV counterparts.  Spock, for example, repeatedly displays emotions, or at least as close to emotion as this writers limited skill allows him to convey.
He also doesn't seem to realize that Trek is set in the future.  Dressler seems more a product of the late 20th century geopolitical scene than that of the 23rd as seen in Trek. Also, noting how deserted the replica Paris is, Kirk mentions the absence of cars and buses,but I believe that it was established in some episode that internal combustion powered vehicles no longer existed in the time of Trek.
Further evidence that our uncredited author may never have actually seen Star Trek is provided by the many continuity errors in the issue.  Dressler's tale directly contradicts much of the future history of Earth as established in the show.  The reference to cars and buses, furthermore, is just one of the many errors in Trek technology.  At one point, Kirk refers to using an old fashioned radio, not a communicator, to  contact the ship.
I realize that my laundry list of errors may read like the nitpicking of an obsessive Trekkie, and it is true that I can be a little obsessive when it comes to Star Trek, especially the original series.  However, it is perfectly reasonable, and not at all obsessive, to expect any adaptation to bear at least a passing resemblance to the source material.
Normally, I'd end this post with a paragraph summing up my thoughts on the issue.  However, there's really no need to restate just how awful Gold Key's Star Trek #7 is.  It should be pretty self evident from everything I've written above.


  1. Great Review..!!!

    Frankly, that's what's so CHARMING about the Gold Key Trek title. They got everything so wrong in terms of details, it's fun.

    Like most tv-based comics,they relied on stock photos for drawing likenesses, not giving a care about any other details. They probably never even watched the show regularly.

    With ALL that in mind, I STILL prefer these to both Marvel and DC issues. Not sure why, but they have a special charm all their own. And I love 'em.

  2. I just recently acquired all four of the original TPB's. I have read up to issue #35, and I agree, these comics are nothing like the TV series. Instead of Spock being half human, half Vulcan, he is more like 3/4 human, 1/4 Vulcan. And Lt. Uhura is regularly referred to as Lt. Uhuru, and once in a while, her proper name. Yes, Spock's ears are too big. And there are many "WTF?" moments when reading the stories. But if you can get past ALL of that, plus the issues you mentioned, and check your brain at the door, the stories can be quite enjoyable to read, if not a bit silly. I found the art to be quite acceptable, and some of the full page renderings of the Enterprise are pretty good. Some of the dialogue like "Radio back to the Enterprise.." is completely screwed up, but then it makes me laugh when I read situations in the story which are completely out of continuity. I agree, the Gold Key stories do have a certain charm about them. On a similar note, a lot of collectors acquire Action, Superman, Batman stories with totally goofy aliens an dumb storylines. After all, how many times can you read about the latest plot of Lois Lane's to prove Clark is Superman? Or "imaginary" tales of Lois and Superman's wedding? Ugh. So take the Star Trek series for what it is, and enjoy if you can totally leave your intelligence at the door.

  3. I have 2,3,4,6 for sale if anyone is interested. Thanks