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Star Trek: Early Voyages #12-15 – Futures, Parts I, II, III & IV (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

As we discussed before, Star Trek: Early Voyages is about as close to a series starring Christopher Pike as we are ever likely see. A monthly comic book running for about a year-and-a-half, told by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton, the book followed the adventures of Christopher Pike’s Enterprise, a prelude to the classic Star Trek television show, filling some gaps left by The Cage and The Menagerie. However, the comic had the benefit of being told after a lot of Star Trek had aired.

First published in 1997, it hit stands after the big-screen adventures of the Kirk era had officially wrapped up in Star Trek: Generations, and long after Star Trek: The Next Generation had gone off the air. Even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was more than half way through its run. This puts Early Voyages in an interesting place. It is set in the past, but knows how the future plays out. The epic four-part Futures storyline plays with this concept, offering us a glimpse of an imperfect future where Captain Kirk is a rogue running a cargo ship, the Klingons have annexed considerable portions of the Federation and are on the verge of war…

Oh, and Christopher Pike is happy. That’s how you know it’s a flawed universe.

"And THAT is for stealing my show!"

“And THAT is for stealing my show!”

As a rule, Star Trek is not a tragedy. There are exceptions, of course. The City on the Edge of Forever ends with Kirk facilitating the death of the woman he loves. In the next episode, his brother and sister-in-law die as part of a plague of madness sweeping the cosmos. However, in the grander scheme of things, characters get happy endings. Kirk might have been killed by a bridge in Star Trek: Generations, but he lived a long and full life which allowed him to achieve his potential. Spock was killed in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but the follow-up film detailed his resurrection.

All Good Things suggested that Picard might suffer from a debilitating old age, but he prevented a bad future where the crew fell apart. Sisko might have been separated from his pregnant wife and son in What You Leave Behind, but Deep Space Nine was the story of a wounded man learning to live and to love again. Captain Janeway got her crew home in Endgame, with self-sacrifice that ultimately meant nothing. Jonathan Archer got to help found the Federation in These Are the Voyages… There have been characters with sad endings (Jadzia Dax, Tasha Yar, Trip Tucker), but they are the exception that proves the rule.

Getting to the core of the matter...

Getting to the core of the matter…

Christopher Pike is the only Star Trek lead who gets a truly heartbreakingly tragic ending, a fact compounded by the argument that he isn’t really a Star Trek lead character at all. His claim to fame is that he was almost the lead character in a science-fiction show in the sixties, and then got disfigured and put in a wheelchair as an excuse to show clips from the one episode he headlined, which wasn’t apparently strong enough to stand on its own merits.

Christopher Pike will wind up disfigured and confined to a wheelchair, where he can only communicate through beeping the light – once for yes, twice for no. He’ll then be escorted to an alien planet and left there by the one surviving regular from his version of Star Trek. And then we will never hear from (or about) him again. The Menagerie tries to present this as something of a happy ending, but it’s less than convincing. After all, he winds up left with a bunch of aliens who once tried to breed him to create a race of pets.

Glass canyons...

Glass canyons…

Time travel is a common enough Star Trek plot device. We’ve also had our share of “bad future” storylines. You know the kind of stories I am talking about. A lead is sent into a version of the future which is less than ideal, and then tries to prevent that from unfolding. The Next Generation had stories like All Good Things…, where Picard discovers that his crew become a bunch of antisocial dicks to one another. Deep Space Nine presented us with The Visitor, where Jake Sisko was forced to live a life without his father. Visionary probably counts as a more pulpy low-key example, where the “bad future” was a few hours from the present.

Star Trek: Voyager practically trapped in this trope, which sort of made sense for a show about a bunch of people who wanted to get home. They have a very definite “good” future they are aiming towards, so it makes sense to subvert and to play with those expectations. The show’s one hundredth episode, Timeless, offered a peak at a world where Voyager never got home. Endgame offered another future where they had, only at terrible cost.

The more things Chang...

The more things Chang…

Early Voyages has a wonderful advantage here. When it was published, there had been thirty years of Star Trek. So, assuming that the future we are familiar with is “the good future” by default, we know what that should look like. So it’s easier to play with our expectations and to offer us a version of the future that still has echoes of the future we know, but where things have changed for the worst.

In many ways, Futures owes a massive debt to The City on the Edge of Forever. Quite a few Star Trek time travel stories do, but it seems like Futures has adopted quite a few of the themes and ideas of The City on the Edge of Forever. Most obviously, there’s the conflict between the welfare of the individual and the greater good. In that classic time travel episode, Edith Keeler is a good person who believes in the Star Trek ideals. However, she has to die so that the world might live.

I do love Kirk's eighties tie!

I do love Kirk’s eighties tie!

Here, Christopher Pike is a good man. Writers Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton add a layer of tragedy to the tale by allowing Pike – of all people – to be the individual who suggests that the time line has been corrupted. “Who is to say that this reality is not somehow flawed?” he asks. Things are obviously wrong. Kirk is not the man he used to be – the man he should be. The Federation seems to be losing ground to the Klingons. However, the only person who objectively seems better off here than in the original time line is Pike. So it seems ironic that he should question the validity of this future.

There are other ideas inherited from The City on the Edge of Forever. Most notably, the idea that time is not a branching structure with equally valid off-shoots in any given direction. There is one “right” future, one predetermined correct outcome. Anything else is inherently inferior and incorrect. Nobody in this alternate continuity dares suggest that their world is correct, or that it has any right to exist. The fact that they have lived their lives does not mean that the time line is not in need of repair.

Re-engineering engineering...

Re-engineering engineering…

There’s also the notion that time is an organic organism, a flowing river that seems capable of trying to correct its own course. When it is wounded, it will try to heal. In The City on the Edge of Forever, the plot conveniently forces Kirk and Spock and McCoy together, something that Spock acknowledges as evidence of time as more than just a sequence of events.  Here, when Colt is dragged into the future, fate happens to throw herself into the path of the Enterprise. And then the adventure throws the classic crew together again.

Most obviously, you can see the universe trying to conform so something resembling its previous shape. Colt is jolted far enough into the future that she arrives at the time of the movies. In particular, it seems, around the time of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Which seems appropriate, given that Chancellor Gorkin had offered the somewhat unconventional characterisation of “the undiscovered country” as the future.” So that’s a nice little gag.

Bringing their "A" game...

Bringing their “A” game…

More than that, it allows us to jump to the end of the continuity of the original Star Trek, and imagine a world where Pike had been in charge instead of Kirk. Had Kirk never come along, the comic suggests, Pike would have lived through similar events. Although, it seems, perhaps he would not have thrived in the same way that Kirk did. “Only Nixon could go to China,” Spock suggested when time came for Kirk to negotiate peace with the Klingons, and Abnett and Edginton suggest that the Federation never would have stood a chance against the Klingons without Kirk. Which makes sense, since Kirk’s style is more a match to them than Pike’s would have been.

And yet, despite that, Abnett and Edginton suggest a time line trying to bend itself back into a familiar shape. We witness echoes of familiar scenes and lines, close enough to invite comparison, but distant enough to hint at some inherent wrongness. Chang proves the final opponent to Pike’s Enterprise, much as he was to Kirk’s. “Blow them from the stars!” he commands when they spot Kirk’s cargo ship, mirroring his threat to Kirk early in The Undiscovered Country. “We come in peace and you BLATANTLY defile that peace! And for that, I shall blow you out of the stars!”

The best of all possible worlds?

The best of all possible worlds?

Later on, Chang concedes that he is glad that Pike uncovered his sinister plot to ambush the Federation and sabotage the peace, mirroring the similar situation with Kirk at the climax to The Undiscovered Country. He omits the “Oh, now be honest, Captain…” and the “… you do prefer it this way, don’t you?”, but he refers to Pike as “Warrior to warrior. Old friend.” For his part, Kirk even paraphrases his own lines from Generations when called to help another captain of the Enterprise, “I trust the situation’s grim and the odds are against us?”

Time seems to want to be fixed, and it’s contorting so it can resemble its previous configuration as much as possible. Still, at the heart of Futures is the idea that Christopher Pike is inherently wrong. It’s quite similar to the idea at the core of Burning Dreams, the notion that Pike was never meant to be in charge of the Enterprise and was never meant to be the lead actor in a show like Star Trek. It’s telling that a universe where Pike has a long and distinguished career is a universe that has radically changed and distorted, lending the story the element of high tragedy.

Klingons on the starboard bow...

Klingons on the starboard bow…

As Kirk and Pike quote, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.” In this case, Pike is the one. Of course, this is also the story of Yeoman Colt. She’s a character who appeared in The Cage, but was arguably the least defined of the major players, the least memorable. If you were to compile a list of minor Star Trek characters, Colt would rank relatively highly. Unlike Spock, Number One or Boyce, she seems to be just wallpaper in the pilot.

So it’s one of the wonderful ironies of Futures that it is her disappearance that sparks the plot. Investigating her future with her boyfriend on a planet surface renowned for “the mythical wells of tomorrow”, she is disheartened to discover that she sees nothing reflected in the glass prism. Her disappearance is prompted by her fascination with those baubles, and the suggestion that her future is non-existent or unimportant. “Look,” her boyfriend explains before she is whisked away, “I was only kidding when I said it was because you had no future!”

Gone in a flash...

Gone in a flash…

Given the nature of the plot, the storyline features some pretty high-profile guest stars, including Kirk himself. I like the suggestion that – had Kirk washed out of Starfleet – he would end up as a sort of a “Han Solo” type rogue, a trader running a cargo ship. Abnett and Edginton assure us that despite Kirk’s roguish charm, his decency is a constant. “For whatever reason, none of us are in Starfleet anymore… but that doesn’t keep us from trying to do the right thing. This young woman needs our help. I for one am not about to turn away from a damsel in distress.”

The cast spend a lot of time mocking Kirk. Pike has no patience for Kirk’s rule-breaking style, which feels perfectly in-character. Jeffrey Hunter seemed more straight-laced than William Shatner. Truth be told, I suspect that Shatner’s charm helped the show survive. There a few hints about Kirk’s less-than-idealised personal attributes. Colt accuses him of trying “a line” on her, despite the fact he’s old enough to be her father. When he claims he isn’t eager to abandon a “damsel in distress”, one member of his crew quips, “You never are.” And yet, despite this, Abnett and Edginton acknowledge the inherent decency of Kirk. He is a good guy.

Mirror Scotty!

Mirror Scotty!

I like that Scotty is more likely to end up with Kirk than he is to end up on the Enterprise – the former leading to the latter. It’s a plot point that the 2009 reboot of Star Trek would use, and it makes sense. Scotty is just as much of a rogue as Kirk is, cheating and coaxing and bending the rules to get the necessary results. I doubt Pike would have too much time for Scotty’s approach to engineering either, given his objections to Kirk’s presence on the ship.

Futures continues a number of the recurring plot threads from the main series, building a sense of series continuity and making it seem like a shame that the comic would be cancelled only two issues later, in the middle of a cliffhanger. So the first part picks up after a conflict with the Tholians, with Pike his usual morose self. Composing letters to write to the families of the deceased, he muses, “It never gets any easier, does it, Phil?” Doctor Boyce replies, “Oh, your shoulders are broad enough.” This fits Pike’s characterisation in The Cage and reinforces the idea that he probably wouldn’t have made the best Star Trek lead.

Taking a swing...

Taking a swing…

The most interesting plot thread concerns Number One, Pike’s second-in-command who is offered her own starship. Demonstrating a trait that is arguably the defining attribute of Star Trek second-in-commands, she is reluctant to leave the Enterprise. It’s a nice thread, because it underscores the idea of just how little we know of Pike’s crew. For all we know, Number One left shortly after The Cage. Or perhaps she stayed with him for his full tour.

Abnett and Edginton also acknowledge the sixties setting of Star Trek, using Number One to make a bit of a jab at some of the questionable issues raised by The Turnabout Intruder, which alleged that there were no female captains. John Byrne used the same character to skirt that issue in his Schism miniseries. When she tells Boyce about the offer, he observes, “I think Starfleet could do with more female captains.” The comic even gets an in-joke in about the character’s oft-referenced absent name. One colleague suggests, “Well, you can’t be a captain and be called Number One. You’ll have to start using that elusive first name of yours!”

Eyes only...

Eyes only…

Interestingly, Abnett and Edginton choose Algol for the story’s setting, home to “the mythical wells of tomorrow.” Like Rigel mentioned in The Cage, it’s a star that actually exists in the sky. As such, the use of Algol does a great deal to suggest that the Federation is still rather densely packed into the Milky Way. We haven’t quite stretched that far beyond stars visible from the surface of Earth. It does a lot to help make Early Voyages seem… well… early. It also underscores just how badly things must be going with the Klingons in the alternate future. They are within sight of Earth.

Algol feels like a suitable location for a story like this. The thought that the “Winking Demon Star” might house a mysterious and fatal secret isn’t too unusual. Indeed, the star apparently has a reputation among astrologers that seems appropriate for a location that almost unravels the universe as we know it. “Astrologers of course said that it was the most unfortunate, violent, and dangerous star in the heavens, and it certainly has been one of the best observed, as the most noteworthy variable in the northern sky.”

Future imperfect?

Future imperfect?

Futures is probably the strongest and most “epic” story of Abnett and Edginton’s work on Early Voyages. Like the rest of the series, it holds up remarkably well. It’s a glimpse of an alternate ending for Christopher Pike, one arguably far more satisfying than anything which made it to screen. Losing that to wind up as a plot point in a clip show adds a certain pathos to Pike’s tale, a sense of grand tragedy.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the first season of the classic Star Trek:

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