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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #7-8 – Saavik’s Story (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

Star Trek comics are an interesting way of catching a glimpse at the franchise one-step away from the heart of production. While there are other forms of tie-in media, comics are produced on a monthly schedule. While scripts need to be written and art needs to be drawn, there’s less lead-in time required, meaning that contemporary Star Trek comics are often able to react dynamically to on-screen events. While novels might take up to a year from original pitch to the time they hit the stands, there’s something rather more urgent about tie-in comic books.

This is an issue for many tie-ins comics. For example, the syndicated Star Trek newspaper strip launched shortly before the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture made a point to feature Ilia as a bridge officer on a relaunched USS Enterprise. She rather suddenly disappeared after those involved actually saw the movie and realised that she didn’t quite survive the adventure. Similarly, when it came to detailing the adventures of Kirk and company in the wake of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, writer Mike W. Barr moved the crew over to the USS Excelsior, in accordance with writer Harve Bennett’s original plan.

That said, Mike W. Barr’s comic book origin story for Lt. Saavik holds up rather well, fitting quite comfortably with Carolyn Clowes’ origin for the character offered in the superb 1990 book The Pandora Principle. Of course, Barr’s origin sketches the broadest of outlines, and is clearly more preoccupied with crafting a pulpy space opera adventure.

Saving Saavik!

Saving Saavik!

I’m quite fond of Mike W. Barr. He wrote quite extensively in the Bronze Age, and had a decidedly “comic book” style. His run with Alan Davis on Detective Comics is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that it coincided with Frank Miller’s Year One, but it offers a clear contrast. Miller made a clear effort to modernise the character of Batman and to pull him into a more realistic present – aligning the Dark Knight’s War on Crime with the urban decay of the eighties. In contrast, Barr wrote stories built on past continuity and revelling in larger-than-life comic book tropes.

To a large extent, this is apparent from his work on Star Trek. Barr is clearly very fond of the show, and has an obvious affection for its internal continuity. For example, he makes a point to name Saavik’s fiancée as Xon, which is a clever touch. When Leonard Nimoy had refused to return for Star Trek: Phase II, the producers had created the character of Xon to fill the role left by him. With Spock dying in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, many speculated that Saavik was yet another attempt to create a Spock surrogate. So pairing the two off makes for a nice inside joke, particularly in the era before the internet made all this production information so easy to access.

Memories run amok!

Memories run amok!

Indeed, Barr offers us an origin for Saavik which plays off the idea that she was a fan of Star Trek – perhaps a nod to actress Kirstie Alley’s admission that she use to play make-believe that she was Spock’s daughter. We’re treated to flashbacks of Saavik watching “tapes” sent back by Spock recounting the adventures of the USS Enterprise. Given that home video was only really becoming accessible in the mid-eighties, it’s hard not imagine many fans being envious of Saavik’s home media collection.

Barr’s origin for Saavik conforms to what other tie-in writers would establish. She is half-Romulan, something never quite touched on in any of the films, and she is the feral child survivor of a failed world. Like Clowes’ take on Saavik, she’s intensely private. When the bridge asks if she is okay, she responds, “That question invades my personal life, Commander.” Although the world is not named, it is easy enough to reconcile with the version of Hellguard presented by Carolyn Clowes and Margaret Wander Bonanno.

Guess who's coming to dinner...

Guess who’s coming to dinner…

“That settlement had been proclaimed ‘unsuccessful’ by the Romulan government and all its inhabitants left to die,” we’re told, which manages to fit quite well with later novel-verse continuity – much easier than any of Barr’s adventures after The Search for Spock fit with on-screen continuity. We’re even informed that Saavik was raised by Sarek and Amanda on Vulcan, making her something of a family member for Spock. It’s impressive how cohesive Saavik’s history manages to be, despite the fact that very little of it was ever actually explored as part of the film franchise. (No reference to Saavik being half-Romulan made it to screen.)

To be fair, this is probably down to the fact that Barr draws Saavik’s origin in the broadest possible strokes, leaving lots of room for later writers to add their own take to the story, crafting an origin with lots of space for other writers to fill in the blanks. Although the title promises an origin for Saavik, Barr only offers the most basic of details. Indeed, most of the two-part story is given over to a typically pulpy adventure featuring an attempt by the Romulans to build an army of psychic super soldiers using the energy of the Great Barrier, as seen in Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Shocking behaviour...

Shocking behaviour…

It is a story that leans very heavily on pulpy comic book tropes. The Romulans stop just short of declaring “they’re alive!” as the barrier energy hits the base and animates the soldiers in a scene very similar to the Universal Horror take on Frankenstein. The dialogue is quite stilted, even by the standards of Star Trek, with many characters offering information that the cast should already know, for the benefit of new readers.

One delightfully awkward sequence has Kirk clumsily toasting his son, David. “My friends, I propose a toast… long life to our honoured guest and his friends… and confusion to our enemies, the Klingons and the Romulans!” The fact that he is petty enough to wish misfortune to his enemies – and then specifically name them – seems strange enough. However, Saavik’s decision to storm out of the dinner while informing people she’s half-Romulan (after her earlier insistence on her own privacy) makes it clear that Barr was just trying to convey that Saavik is half-Romulan in a way that didn’t involve clunky exposition. However, it makes the whole thing seem a little melodramatic.

Looks like he's been a Xon...

Looks like he’s been a Xon…

To be fair, Barr’s story benefits from the fact that he had obviously seen (or at least read the script for) The Search for Spock by the time he wrote this two-parter. It was published in August 1984, two months following the cinematic release of The Search for Spock. As such, Barr is able to reference Saavik and David being posted to the USS Grissom, and able to foreshadow David Marcus’ death by giving Kirk a decidedly ironic toast.

These comics offer a compelling glimpse at contemporary Star Trek spin-offs, ones written and published relatively quickly and thus better able to keep up with the on-screen franchise than the novels. In the end, a lot of DC’s 1984 series wound up being discarded and forgotten as a result of its awkward attempts to keep up with a series of films that were still in progress. On the other hand, it’s remarkable how much of Barr’s work still holds up. The Mirror Universe Saga is still a deliciously pulpy read, even if it’s completely divorced from continuity.

Speeding ahead of continuity...

Speeding ahead of continuity…

Barr’s Saavik’s Story is interesting because it still fits quite well, demonstrating that sometimes the tie-in universe had its own weird continuity ties that were at least as tight as those on the screen.

Check out our reviews of the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast:

4 Responses

  1. Young Mike W Barr sometimes had his letters printed in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. The Atomic Knights were a particular favorite of his.

    • I’m very fond of Barr, I must admit. I love his work on Batman with Alan Davies. I’m fond of Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon. Year Two might not be great, but it’s a fairly bold rejection of Year One.

  2. It was mentioned that there was a line that deleted from Wrath of Khan but shown in versions that mentions Saavik is half Romulan. The novelization of the film was said to talk about her Romulan background but I have not read that. So this would be only the second time her origin was shown.

    MIke W. Barr is very underrated writer. And he wrote some great issues in his Star Trek run. Especially the annuals.

    • I like Barr a lot. I have to admit I wasn’t too familiar with his Star Trek work before diving into this project, although I am quite fond of his Batman work with Alan Davis.

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