EP0020: Star Trek: The Newspaper Strip Volume 2 (Review)

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Proto-borgs, a space race, James T. Kirk, slave trader, and a trip to the 20th Century for some fan service. That’s what ahead and more in today’s review of Star Trek Newspaper strips.

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Transcript below:

Space, the Final Frontier! These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Her four-year mission: to help promote Star Trek movies in newspapers all around America. Learn more when we take a look at Star Trek: The Newspaper Comics Volume 2, straight ahead.



It’s amazing the number of properties that have appeared as newspaper strips. Some we wouldn’t be surprised by comic books, but daily and Sunday strips were oftentimes seen as a great way to adapt a property. Many obvious superheroes such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been in the comic strips along with characters like Blondie and the Peanuts gang. There was even a series of Stars Wars comic strips. In conjunction with the release of the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek launched newspapers across America with the crew appearing in the same uniforms that they wore in the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture.


The American Comics Library has put out two bound editions. The first collects Volume One collecting 1979 to 81, and the second collecting 81 to 83. The first three strips in the book are written by Sharman DiVono with the art by Ron Harris, and actually the first story in the book in actually the most interesting. In fact, the introduction by JC Vaughn to this volume cites only this particular story because it features the appearance of Cyborgs, Cyborgs which assimilate biological lifeforms and make them part of their whole.I think the…what Vaughn calls the ‘Pro-Borg’ aspect of the story is a bit overplayed in the introduction in the back cover copy, but it’s definitely there. The way that beings look when assimilated, as well as the appendages call the Borg, even though there are a lot of differences. Even though you can’t call this directly a look at the Borg, it’s a pretty good science fiction story…and as I said it’s the best story in the book.


The next story is The Wristwatch Plantation which finds the Enterprise transporting a diminutive alien race known as the Bebebebeque who have a lot of complications. The story is a bit rambling. First, the aliens are having difficulty getting along with the crew and Kirk’s got to solve that; and then there’s narcotics trafficking and then there are other aliens who are enslaving them on their colony. And it does have just a bit of meandering and wandering to it, but it’s kind of like the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories where they would tell a story over the course of months in the comic strip and it would seem to wander about almost endlessly as one development led to another, but still on the same plot. This is a fairly good story.


The Nogura Regatta finds the Enterprise, as well as twenty other Federation ships participating in a space version of a Japanese race for an Admiral’s birthday, while the Admiral’s grandson is deciding to do a social engineering experiment on the crews of these ships using space pirates. This is an interesting concept – I think it works for the most part even though it’s a little bit silly, particularly when you think about all of those episodes of Star Trek when the Enterprise is informed, “You’re the only ship that’s close enough to get there.” You wonder was it because all of the other ships in the Federation were often involved in some race for an Admiral’s birthday.


The fourteenth story set in September of 1982 brings a new creative team on board which initially is no team at all. It’s Padraic Shigetani who both writes the story and does the art, and it involves some merchant ships firing on the Federation, mad that the Federation is bringing peace, and so they’re not able to salvage like they used to because there aren’t ships getting blown up. It’s a really weak plot line with annoying guest characters, and the art is really off. I should note that…this also notes a bit of a shift because they were using the Star Trek Motion Picture uniforms in prior stories. Here they shift to the Star Trek Two uniforms that were used throughout the original series movies from that point forward. And I like the movies uniforms for the latter films, but the art is really off – particularly on Kirk who just kind of looks like a blob – very indistinct. And that’s a problem when he’s your main character.


The next story is written by Martin Pascoe with Shigetani continuing the art. And this is one where the Enterprise crew begins being replaced by shape shifters. This is kind of a standard body snatcher story, and it went on for three months which was way too long for this story anyway. It’s not as bad as the previous one, but it’s not good either.


After this, Gerry Conway comes on as the writer. Gerry Conway was a famous Marvel comics writer; did some great work on Spider-Man with Bob Myers as the artist. The art is definitely much better in this series of strips. The story is a little better but it still has some major problems.


The focus of the story is Courier Clones. The process works like this: a person is cloned and there are two separate clones made. And then for diplomatic mission both the original and two clones are given part of a diplomatic message, and only the three of them together can decode the full message because each of them only has one-third of it. Now, there are all kinds of problems with this because essentially Conway has the Federation breeding clones for the sole purpose of performing a specific service: it literally making them slaves. It’s really highly unethical stuff that I don’t think any iteration of Star Trek would support the Federation doing. It’s also really flawed for this diplomatic mission, because in this story one of the clones is killed, which illustrates the big problem. You have two people now, neither of which can complete the message themselves.


The story not only doesn’t make sense within Star Trek but it also shows some uncharacteristically lazy writing. This is to make peace with the Sandor and Kirk, asking the superior, “Why are we at war with the Sangdor?” And the superior says, “Nobody does!” And I think by ‘nobody’ that also includes the writer – he has no idea why these people are at war. In addition, the big conflict he created with the murder, he resolves in a way that doesn’t make sense with the rules he’s established for how this thing is supposed to work. So, despite the improved art, this is still a pretty weak story.


The next story is Goodbye the Spock which, of course, involves Sulu leaving. Now it involves Spock crash-landing on a planet and sort of getting amnesia and falling in love as his human aside overwhelms the Vulcan side with him no longer in possession of his memories. This story is a bit cliched but it still has some good points in there. I think it’s always fun to kind of take a look at the dual nature of Spock, the human and the Vulcan side, and it’s always fun to explore in literature or on film. My big complaint with the story is there’s again a bit of a slip, because when Spock crashes on the planet he has amnesia and they ask him what his name is and he tells the natives he doesn’t know. And the natives then go around calling him ‘Spock’ all the time, which they had no way of knowing because he had no way of knowing.


Terminally Yours has McCoy fleeing the Enterprise because he’s contracted a deadly virus and he doesn’t want it spread to the Enterprise crew. Spock and Kirk set out to save him. This is the type of thing Trek has done before but it’s a fairly good story; it also moves at a good pace as it lasts just about five weeks. Dick Kulpa takes over as the artist for this strip and the rest of the remaining strips, and does a really good job. It’s not quite as good as Harris’ as the beginning but it does really look like Star Trek without being distracting.


Then we have The Retirement of Admiral Kirk where Kirk’s assignment as Commander of the Enterprise comes to the end and he’s given a desk job. Instead of that, Kirk resigns his commission and takes command of the first rinky dink cargo ship to come along asking for his help. But there is a problem: it’s some suspicious motives from his employers. This one’s not horrible but Kirk really acts far out of character in this. It’s incredibly impulsive, even for Kirk. The most bizarre part of the story is that it keeps flashing over to the Enterprise to see what Spock is doing in command, and he just keeps saying things like, ‘Fascinating’, and ‘Interesting’, and other one word sentences; with, of course, his longtime crewmates commenting on how coldhearted he is, which is a bit weak. On the other hand, what I do like is on the trade ship Kirk actually finds the alien chief engineer…it has a Scottish accent leading Kirk to have a thought bubble, “Why is it all Starship engineers, even aliens, talk with a Scottish brogue?” That’s just bizarrely wonderful there.


The Star Trek newspaper strips conclude with Getting Real which finds the Enterprise going to the-then modern time of 1983 and beaming down to the surface where they are recognized as Kirk and Spock, because they have gone into an alternate dimension where they are lead characters on the TV show, Star Trek, which has another movie coming soon. And the two precocious boys who saw them talk their way into getting beamed aboard the Enterprise where they find the Enterprise is there to shoot down a space shuttle – because in their history that space shuttle carried a deadly virus to Earth, and so Malcolm and Joey set out to stop them. This story has some problems, a lot of problems logically. It takes them forever to figure out that they’re in an alternate universe, and Kirk’s a bit slow about that given that he’s been in alternate universes before and needs it explained to him. And it’s also somewhat dubious about having the Federation decide to send the ship back in time to alter their own timeline. But I think the important point of this was to give Malcolm and Joey a fun adventure on the Enterprise. The idea of these two kids, who are fans of the TV show, getting to run aboard the ship, to interact with the characters, and even at one point steal a shuttle to try and save the US Space Shuttle. I love the part where Kirk and Spock arrive in the shuttle bay and Spock says, “You always said the shuttles were so easy to operate, that even a child could do it. It appears you were not wrong.”


The story wraps up Star Trek’s newspaper run with a nice little bit of fan service, and I’ll put aside the flaws in this particular story. Overall though, I’ll give the book a rating of Not Classy. The first story is great and the next two stories are pretty good, and the final one is a cute and innocent little tale; but the rest of the book is very uneven, ranging from average to really bad with the art often not being up to snuff. Still, if you’re a die-hard Trek fan, the first story and the so-called proti-Borg storyline may make this book worth picking up just for that, because that is a really good story even if the rest of the book doesn’t quite live up to its high standards.


Alright, well that’s it for now. If you do have a comment send it to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter @classycomicsguy and check out our website classycomicsguy.com. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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