Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Star Trek #7 (DC; 1st Series)

"You belong at your captain's side, Mr. if you've always been there and always will."
Edith Keeler said that in "City On The Edge of Forever."  To Star Trek fans, as well, the idea of the adventures of James Tiberius Kirk without his Vulcan science officer, and closest friend, seems almost unthinkable.  Yet Trek fandom has faced that possibility a couple of times.
Before Paramount executives; casting about for a science fiction franchise to compete with Star Wars in theaters and realizing, ultimately, that  they already had one; upped the budget and hired a big name director the story that became Star Trek: The Motion Picture began life as  a teleplay entitled "In Thy Image."  It was to be the pilot of a second Trek series known as Star Trek: Phase II, which was envisioned as the cornerstone of a Paramount owned and run fourth TV network.   The original cast was on board for the new series with the sole exception of Leonard Nimoy.  Spock was to replaced at the science station by a full Vulcan named Xon and as first officer by Will Decker.  However, when plans for the Paramount network were scrapped and the project morphed into a feature film, Nimoy was persuaded to return to his most famous role. 
By the time of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Nimoy was once again ready to leave Spock behind him. This set the stage for the character's dramatic sacrifice at the end of that film.  Ultimately, Nimoy changed his mind yet again.  He continued on as Spock through the final original cast film and beyond, appearing in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and J.J. Abram's 2009 re-imagining of the original series.
Yet there is one set of ongoing Star Trek adventures that provides a glimpse of a Spock-less Trek.  DC Comics' first Star Trek series debuted in late 1983, more than a year after the release of The Wrath of Khan and several months before the debut of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, picking up the story of Kirk and crew immediately following the end of the former film.
With Spock gone, his duties were divided up between Saavik, the new science officer, and Sulu, who was elevated to second in command.  At least  one letter writer wondered why Scotty, who was shown in the TV series to be third in line after the captain and Spock, wasn't made first officer.  Based on my understanding of the character, however, it isn't hard for me to speculate  that were he offered the post at all, he would have turned it down, preferring instead to remain in engineering overseeing his precious warp engines.
While Marvel's licensing deal with Paramount ostensibly allowed them use of only the characters and concepts seen in the first movie, DC was free to draw on the entire Trek canon.  Initial writer Mike W. Barr made ample use of this freedom. His debut storyline worked in elements from "Errand of Mercy," "The Savage Curtain," and even "The Trouble With The Tribbles."  A later storyline would pay a lengthy return visit to the alternate reality of "Mirror, Mirror."
The two part tale begun in #7 contains echoes of "Amok Time" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and even throws in a sly nod to the aborted Phase II project while at the same time setting the stage for assimilating The Search For Spock into the comic's continuity. That seems like a lot to cram into two issues and still tell a coherent story, but Barr, along with guest penciller Eduardo Barreto, filling in on #7 to give regular artist Tom Sutton time to work on the double sized adaptation of the third film which took the regular comics place on DC's schedule the following month, and inker Ricardo Villagran, manage to pull it off fairly decently.
The story begins in #7 with Saavik in her quarters and obviously in great agony.  Naturally enough, as this comic was published prior to the release of Star Trek III, she is drawn as Kirstie Alley, the actress who originated the role in The Wrath of Khan.  Interestingly, however, aside from the movie adaptations, where she is quite properly drawn as replacement actress Robin Curtis, Sutton would continue to draw Saavik to resemble Alley until the character exited the series in the wake of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Meanwhile, Admiral Kirk's son David Marcus has come on board the Enterprise to be transported to a rendezvous with the ill-fated U.S.S. Grissom to conduct a survey of the Genesis planet.  At a banquet in David's honor, Saavik makes an uncharacteristic emotional scene and storms off to her quarters.  She is followed by a concerned Kirk and Dr. McCoy.  The ship's surgeon quickly surmises that Saavik is in the grip of the Vulcan mating urge known as Pon Farr, which, by the way, is mistakenly spelled in the story title and throughout the issue with only one "r".
The readership of this comic, at least the ones who troubled themselves to write to the letters column, seemed to consist in large part of hardcore Trekkers who had followed Kirk and company since the debut episode, "The Man Trap," first aired on September 8, 1966.  Apparently, many of them wrote in questioning Barr's basic premise that Vulcan women as well as men experience Pon Farr.   There is some evidence to the contrary.  T'Pring certainly acted purely out of cold, rational logic as she hatched her scheme to screw over Spock and have the man she truly wanted in "Amok Time."  Nonetheless, the question has, to my knowledge, never been addressed in any Star Trek movie or TV episode.  Thus there is no "official" answer, so Barr was not out of line in suggesting that Vulcan females also feel the call to return home to mate.
Which is precisely what Saavik does, as Kirk, just as he had done all those years ago for Spock, puts his current mission on hold and diverts to Vulcan.  First, however, Saavik relates for Kirk and McCoy the tale of her early years as one of the few hearty survivors of an abandoned Romulan colony, a story that tracks quite closely with the version of Saavik's past related by Vonda N. McIntyre in her novelization of the second movie.  The young Romulan-Vulcan half-breed is discovered by a Vulcan expedition led by Spock.  He takes the girl in and leaves her on Vulcan to be raised by his parents while he goes back to the Enterprise.  There she is betrothed to a young man named Xon.
Now, because Saavik was Xon's second future wife, his first having been killed by a wild sehlat (the Vulcan "teddy bear with six inch fangs" first mentioned in "Journey to Babel" and later shown in the animated episode "Yesteryear"), apparently the bonding didn't quite take for him.  Thus, when Saavik arrives on Vulcan, she discovers that Xon has not felt a similar call home and is nowhere to be found.  Spock's father Sarek reveals that Xon is away on a top secret mission and Sarek may not reveal his whereabouts.
Saavik engages in a bit of computer hacking to learn where Xon is, then steals a spaceship and lights out for the rim of the galaxy.  Sarek, meanwhile, wants to chat with Kirk about Spock's katra.  Kirk begs off, saying that finding Saavik must take priority at the moment.  However, the admiral promises that he and Sarek will speak of the matter in the future. 
Trailing Saavik to the energy barrier that surrounds the galaxy, as shown in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the Enterprise finds itself unexpectedly under attack.  The final panel of #7 reveals the attacker to be none other than Saavik herself, in the grips of the Plak Tow, or "blood fever", that comes in the later stages of Pon Farr. 
The story wraps up two months later in #8, as Sutton returns to the pencilling chores.  After her fevered attempts to destroy her own ship are thwarted, Saavik eventually is reunited with Xon, who has infiltrated a top secret Romulan scientific outpost near the galactic barrier.  The Romulans are attempting to use the energies of the barrier, the same ones that elevated Gary Mitchell to near godhood in "Where No Man Has Before," to create an army of invincible super  warriors with which to challenge the Federation.
These two issues, even with the spelling errors and continuity issues, comprise a fairly decent Star Trek tale that provides a neat, though not entirely seamless, segue into The Search For Spock.  After all, in the movie continuity the events of the third film follow those of it predecessor almost immediately.  The comic book, however, had the task of working in several months of stories in between them, and some dissonance between the two continuities is to be expected. 

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