Thursday, November 15, 2012

Star Trek #7 (Marvel)

Gold Key published their final issue of Star Trek (#61) in late 1978.  December of 1979 saw the theatrical release of the long awaited and highly anticipated Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Accompanying the film's release was a brand new comic book series, this time from Marvel Comics. Marvel began their tenure as keeper of the Trek flame with an adaptation of the movie which origanally published as the magazine sized Marvel Super Special #15.  The adaptation was then recycled as the first three issue of the ongoing comic book format series.   With issue #4, the comic began presenting new adventures of James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise as they boldly went where no man had gone before, though they couldn't say that.
Such  were the terms of Marvel's licensing agreement with Paramount that the publisher ostensibly had only the rights to use characters and concepts presented in the film.  However, ST:TMP was very much a movie made for those already familiar with Trek.  There's little in the film in the way of establishing the world of the series or the backgrounds and personalities of the characters on which to base an ongoing series of adventures.  However, it appears that Paramount wasn't paying very close attention to the comic.  Thus, concepts from the TV series, such as the Organian Peace Treaty, established in the episode "Errand of Mercy," began to infiltrate the scripts, especially those written by Martin Pasko.  It seems that the terms of the licensing deal served mainly to give Marvel's editors a prefab response to fans calling for the return of characters from the TV or sequels to their favorite episodes.  Though, I'm sure that if Marvel had attempted so blatant a violation of their licensing pact as bringing back, say, Harry Mudd or using the Romulans, Paramount would have put their foot down.  An occasional mention of the Prime Directive probably wasn't considered worth fussing over.
Judging by their letters (when they were printed, which was rarely), this wasn't quite the Star Trek series that die hard Marvel Zombies expected or wanted from the so-called House of Ideas.  They seemed to envision a series more in the style of Marvel's super-hero line, featuring the company's trademark continuity with continued stories and ongoing subplots, akin to the approach DC would take with the property a couple of years hence.  Other than the three part adaptation of the film and an initial two parter in issues #5 and #6, the series consisted of a succession of completely self-contained single issue stories with only rare occassional references to events in past issues, more in the vein of the TV series or, dare I make the comparison, the Gold Key comic.
Though it lasted only eighteen issues, Marvel's Star Trek went through more than its share of writers and artists for such a short time.  Marv Wolfman stayed on four just four issues; Mike W. Barr wrote three, one of those co-authored by Dennis O'Neil; and Michael Fleischer and J.M. DeMatteis each contributed a single issue.  Martin Pasko, with eight issues, is the closest thing the series had to a regular writer.  Among the artists who took there turns at the Enterprise crew were Dave Cockrum, Joe Brozowski, Luke McDonnell, Leo Duranona, Ed Hannigan and Gil Kane. The story in #7, "Tomorrow or Yesterday," was written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mike Netzer, or "Nasser", as he was known at the time, with inks by Klaus Janson.
The story opens with a splash page depicting the Enterprise approaching a planet partially obscured by the "Captain's Log" caption box.  As the caption explains, the ship has been dispatched to an unexplored region of space through which a cloud of deadly radiation is passing.  Their mission is to evacuate any populated planets that lie in the cloud's path.  On the world classified as Andrea IV, Spock detects a small, seemingly primitive civilization. Despite an energy field surrounding the planet that makes transporting difficult, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and two security officers beam down to convince the Andrean natives to abandon the world of their birth.
The landing party greeted by one of the locals in a hovercraft, the only evidence of advanced technology visible on the planet, and taken to the planet's main settlement where they are shocked to see giant and apparently ancient statues of themselves.   The crew's efforts to organize an evacuation prove fruitless as the Andreans seem convinced that the Enterprise personnel are the long prophesied "saviors-from-the-sky" who will save their world in its hour of need.
On top of all that, the landing party find themselves unable to get back to the Enterprise due to interference with the transporters by the planet's mysterious solar energy field.  With time running out, Kirk sends the Enterprise, with Scotty in command, off to attempt to disperse the radiation cloud using the ship's phasers.  This effort, of course, fails utterly, leaving the Enterprise crippled, with only its shields for protection as the cloud engulfs it.
Back on the planet, Kirk and Spock discover one of a series of giant solar collectors responsible for the planet's energy field. They return to the settlement to witness one of the Andreans undergoing a bizarre transformation.  In the local vernacular, he is about to "step beyond."  The Enterprise officers follow the evolving alien through a door in the base of the giant statues of themselves.  They descend into a vast chamber filled with high tech machinery that had gone undetected by the ship's sensors.  Spock mind melds with the evolving Andrean and learns the true nature of their race.  The Andreans who have "stepped beyond" are able to exist in all times at once, thus they foresaw the approach of the space cloud thousands of years earlier and prepared for it by building the solar collectors and the underground complex.  Spock pulls a lever that releases the centuries of pent up solar energy surrounding the planet, dispersing the cloud.
I enjoyed this story when I first read it in 1980, and I still enjoy when I reread it today.  DeFalco does a decent job of recreating the feel of a Star Trek episode, and he gets the characters individual voices down.  This story reminds me a bit of the third season episode "The Paradise Syndrome," which also featured a primitive society imperiled by a space borne threat which the Enterprise  is powerless to stop and a device left behind by the ancients to save the day in just such an emergency.
Netzer and Jansen capture the actors' likenesses pretty well in most spots.  There are, however, a few panels toward the end of the story where the art isn't quite showing you what the captions or dialogue say you should be looking at.
All in all, this issue, somewhat derivative though good but by no means great, is fairly representative of the Marvel Star Trek series as a whole.

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