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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) Annual #1 – All Those Years Ago…

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.

It’s weird to think that the original cast of Star Trek didn’t get a proper on-screen origin story until JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009. The show produced two pilots – The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before – and even the pilot episode that wound up airing was broadcast as the third episode of the first season. Given the realities of sixties television, it’s probably not too surprising. Rather famously, Gilligan’s Island scrapped its origin story pilot, reworking some of the footage (along with re-shot footage) into a later episode – deciding to skip the story of how everybody got here and just get to the meat of the story.

And you can understand why this approach worked with the original Star Trek. Structurally, the series was a product of its time, largely episodic. Sure, there were recurring alien races and even a few recurring guest stars outside the senior staff, but there was a sense you could jumble the viewing order of most of the episodes up and not notice anything strange.

At the same time, the lack of an origin leaves a vacuum. After all, each of the four following spin-offs opened with a two-hour special about putting the crew together to take their place on the final frontier. In hindsight, having had years to grow old with these characters and watch their friendships (and personalities) deepen and broaden, it occurs to us that we never really say them come together for the first time.

All Those Years Ago... isn’t nearly as elaborate or as sophisticated as Vonda M. McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, but it does hint at a growing curiosity about how the team came to work together.

Second star on the right...

Second star on the right…

Vonda McIntyre would offer a different account of Kirk’s inaugural command for the twentieth anniversary of the franchise. In case we needed any more proof that an origin story was a big event, it was also the first “giant-sized” novel in the line. However, All Those Years Ago… – the first annual published for DC Comics’ 1984 Star Trek series – got there a little earlier. The credits for the issue are quite impressive. Mike W. Barr wrote some of the earliest strongest DC Star Trek comics, but this is a story too big for even Barr to tackle alone.

Marv Wolfman and Dave Cockrum are credited as “co-plotters.” While there’s no real way to know exactly how much each of the credited writers contributed to the script, that is one impressive creative line-up. Mike W. Barr was in the middle of his own Star Trek comic run. Dave Cockrum was a veteran comic book artist, but one who had helped Len Wein and Chris Claremont revitalise the X-Men franchise as the first artist on the relaunched title. Marv Wolfman was the writer on New Teen Titans, often consider DC Comics’ answer to Uncanny X-Men, a comic so popular that it made it through DC’s reality-resetting Crisis on Infinite Earths mostly unscathed. (Well, mostly. There were hiccups.)

Keeping it handy...

Keeping it handy…

The creative line-up suggests that there was quite a lot of interest in this particular story. Much like the credits for Yesterday’s Enterprise suggest that everybody in the Star Trek: The Next Generation writers’ room pitched in for what was an iconic and memorable story, there’s a sense that the people working behind the scenes know that All Those Years Ago… is a “big” story, as far as Star Trek comics go. It’s so big that it drafts in some pretty respected contributors known for their involvement in two of the industry’s biggest and hippest comics in the seventies and eighties.

And, despite this, All Those Years Ago… feels rather lukewarm. It’s more like the broad sketch of an origin story than an origin. All the ingredients are there. There’s a crossover between Christopher Pike and James Tiberius Kirk, with the latter proving his ability to command the Enterprise by rescuing the former. There are hints of tension between Kirk and Spock, suggesting that their contrasted world views may have originally set them at odds. There’s the suggestion that Kirk is still a little inexperienced, a little reckless.

Passing the baton... I mean, sword...

Passing the baton… I mean, sword…

However, none of these plot points go anywhere. Consider the relationship between Kirk and Spock – one of the most iconic relationships in popular culture. The two are opposites, but their dynamic works well. Sure, they occasionally disagree. That was obvious, even in Where No Man Has Gone Before, where Spock effectively wants Kirk to maroon (or murder) his best friend for the safety of the ship (and possibly the universe). However, by the time we join them, they get along very well. Spock knows the Captain’s quirks and Kirk knows how to push his second-in-command’s buttons. (While also being appreciative of needs Spock can’t articulate – as in Journey to Babel or Amok Time.)

It’s fun to imagine their first impressions of one another, before this tight bond formed, and All Those Years Ago… offers a few interesting hints. It articulates the fandom idea that Spock might not have been Kirk’s first officer at the time of Where No Man Has Gone Before. It’s something of a hotly-contested fan theory, with various people have various reasons to believe what they want to believe about the episode. Gary Mitchell sits closer to where Number One sat in The Cage, he’s privy to the early discussions between Kirk and Spock. Spock isn’t explicitly mentioned as First Officer.

Making sure it's ship-shape...

Making sure it’s ship-shape…

(Indeed, there are reasons to support this hypothesise. The tragedy on Where No Man Has Gone Before is amplified if you look at it as Spock urging Kirk to dump his best friend, only to become Kirk’s closest and most trusted friend in the aftermath. If the Spock only became second-in-command following Where No Man Has Gone Before, it adds another nuanced layer to their relationship. It also makes Where No Man Has Gone Before seem like a more significant Star Trek episode. If it’s really about Spock assuming the second-in-command post, then it becomes a suitable starting point for the show, a pseudo-origin for the ensemble – perhaps betraying fascination with origin stories.)

Vonda M. McIntyre would play with this idea in Enterprise: The First Adventure, suggesting that Kirk wanted Gary Mitchell as his first officer, only to be voted down by the brass. All Those Years Ago… follows through on the theory, by having Kirk actually name Mitchell as his first officer. And it justifies this decision by explaining that Kirk probably wasn’t too fond of Spock based on first impressions. “Spock seems to be a good man, Gary, but I need someone I can trust… out there,” he tells Pike. For what it’s worth, Spock is also somewhat icy, “He seems a fine officer, his record is impressive, despite nine academy demerits.”

How very Pike...

How very Pike…

That’s part of the fun of these origins, watching two characters who we know will get along famously come to terms with one another. Kirk and Spock are very much an odd couple, and there’s joy to be had in seeing them overcome those difficulties and become friends – much like there’s fun to be had in watching Kirk grow into the role of Captain. Barr’s script suggests that Kirk isn’t quite where he needs to be in order to take command of the Enterprise.

He’s so eager to inspect his new ship that he neglects the starship he is presently commanding. “But Captain, you can’t leave like this — right in the middle of docking procedures!” his second-in-command protests. When he first encounters Scotty, he rubs the engineer the wrong way be suggesting that he knows quite a bit about engineering. On the bridge of the Enterprise, Kelso is less than impressed with Kirk’s eagerness to examine his latest command, before Pike has relinquished her.

A bolt from the blue...

A bolt from the blue…

So All Those Years Ago… has all the necessary ingredients for a solid Star Trek origin. There’s a sense of edginess and conflict as this crew need to work together, and a sense that Kirk has yet to grow into the man he must become. There are hints of frustration and a sense that everything on the Enterprise didn’t magically click into place. In short, All Those Years Ago… offers a nice outline of what one should expect from the story of Kirk’s first command, broadly similar to the approaches taken by McIntyre and Abrams in their own distinct takes on the event.

The problem is that All Those Years Ago… lacks follow-through. It very quickly becomes a standard Star Trek adventure that just happened to take place during Kirk’s first command. The Enterprise is attacked by a species Pike encountered while he was first officer, and Pike is kidnapped. Kirk and his crew must rescue his predecessor from the grip of these hostile aliens. Once they recover Pike, they discover that the alien culture is really alien, and that Pike’s actions all those years ago was a misguided anthropocentric attempt to render aid that went horribly wrong due to a cultural misunderstanding.

Kirk taking command is never good for Pike...

Kirk taking command is never good for Pike…

“You mean… years ago, when I first encountered them… I thought I was saving them… I was slowly killing them?” Pike asks, as if the guy needed any more guilt heeped on to of him. It’s a fairly standard Star Trek story that would be interesting under other circumstances, but it feels a little rote and generic. Spock saves the day by acting impulsively, but there’s no indication of how this changes his relationship with Kirk. And it’s all tied together with an anchor in the continuity of the then-current Star Trek comics, with Spock commanding his own science ship and Kirk in charge of the Excelsior.

It feels a little rote and trite. There’s no sense of watching the crew gel. Kirk never has a moment where he steps up to the responsibilities of command and learns to trust the crew he has inherited from Pike. Scotty never gets to accept that Kirk is a damn fine leader. Spock never seems to come to completely respect and trust the officer he had assessed as “fine” in conversation with Pike. All Those Years Ago… feels like a regular adventure with some origin-story trappings inserted.

A crushing blow to crew moral...

A crushing blow to crew moral…

It’s hard to be too critical – this is one of the earliest attempts to fill that particular hole in Star Trek continuity – but it seems more like a passable first effort at an origin story than a well-executed example of one. It seems more useful for demonstrating existing curiosity about this gap in the canon than it does at trying to fill it. Indeed, this is one of the first times that we’ve seen Pike appear in any media outside of the television show.

Perhaps that’s due to the nature of television and media in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Pike had only appeared to the public in the two-part Menagerie episode, barring a few convention screening of The Cage. However, the mid-to-late-eighties would see a surge in the character’s popularity. He’d also appear as a supporting character in Enterprise: The First Adventure in 1986.

Always glad to Len a hand...

Always glad to Len a hand…

However, it seemed 1988 was a turning point for Pike. To celebrate the launch of The Next Generation, and fill a gap left by the writers’ strike, Gene Roddenberry would introduce an airing of  The Cage as part of a special in October 1988. The following February, Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana’s would publish Vulcan’s Glory, which prominently featured Pike – both in the story and on the cover. With Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country bidding a fond farewell to the original Star Trek crew in 1991, it seemed that Pike was also included in the spirit of the occasion. Two consecutive tie-in novels published in 1991 – Legacy and The Rift – featured flashbacks to the character’s time in command.

All of which is a way of suggesting that All Those Years Ago… is just a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to Pike, and perhaps the interest in the early years of Star Trek. As the framing sequence reminds us, DC were publishing Star Trek in a weird continuity that apparently ran parallel to the movies. Despite the fact that this meant having to fill in gaps in a serialised story told at two-year-intervals, the comics seemed to stress the need to keep up with current continuity.

Beam us up...

Beam us up…

Perhaps All Those Years Ago… suggests a resurgent interest in the past, suggesting that there are still interesting stories to be told within that framework, paving the way for the sixties-era stories that would be told in comics released after The Undiscovered Country or even for Marvel’s Early Voyages series or John Byrne’s Crew. Perhaps All Those Years Ago foreshadows the pending nostalgia for vintage Star Trek, and a curiosity not so much about where the franchise is going, but where it may have been before we met it.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note the weird continuity approach taken by the book. Barr is fond of dropping references. So we discover that Mitchell took shore leave at Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet, as mentioned in The Man Trap. When Pike references a past adventure in casual conversation with Kirk, it’s The Cage. There’s even allusions to things never mentioned on the live-action show – like the fact that Bones was running away from a messy divorce on Earth. Although he doesn’t appear, Pike namedrops Captain Robert April.

Spaced out...

Spaced out…

(Oddly enough, those last two were both referenced on Star Trek: The Animated Series, which is a bone of contention for continuity die-hards, probably fuelled by various ambiguous statements made by Roddenberry about whether or not he considered it “canon” when creating The Next Generation. It would seem that Barr does, and has a clear fondness for the ideas introduced in the show. Well, either that or he quite likes taking elements from the show bible that never made it to air in live action Star Trek.)

However, there are also weird hiccups. Sulu is sitting at the conn, despite the fact that he was featured as science officer in Where No Man Has Gone Before. The uniforms are rather wonderfully illustrated in the same style as The Cage or Where No Man Has Gone Before, but the colours seem a little odd. Spock is wearing blue, unlike the yellow from the second pilot. Uhura and Scotty are wearing red, despite the fact that red jumpers didn’t seem to exist in Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Strange new worlds...

Strange new worlds…

None of this really matters, but it’s interesting to note – perhaps suggesting some of the fan-driven reworking of the show’s internal continuity. Sulu was always the navigator! There were always red shirts! Indeed, Spock’s succinct summary of Kirk’s academic record seems at odds with the version of Kirk’s academy days hinted at in Where No Man Has Gone Before and Shore Leave, painting the character as a studious nerd with no lady skills who was a prime target for bullies.

Some of these would be re-written by on-screen Star Trek, of course. By the time that All Those Years Ago… had been written, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had already revealed that Kirk was a hell raiser at the Academy, cheating on the Kobayashi Maru. (It’s a characterisation that would carry through to JJ Abrams’ reboot.) Similarly, Star Trek: Enterprise would feature red decal on uniforms, suggesting that Starfleet had always favoured red/yellow/blue colour schemes. It’s interesting to see the franchise re-write its own history internally from time to time.

Enterprise: Number One for on-the-job safety!

Enterprise: Number One for on-the-job safety!

All Those Years Ago… is much more interesting in theory than in execution, but it does demonstrate an interest in going back to where it all began.

Check out our reviews of JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek series:

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6 Responses

  1. This is one of the most beautiful Star Trek comics too. Every panel could be its own 25th Anniversary trading card!

    • It is actually. There’s some Curt Swan in here, isn’t there? I was always impressed by the sheer volume of Swan’s output. Doesn’t get enough respect.

      • As a big Superman nut, I’ve spent plenty of time poring over Swan’s art. His great strength is world-building. He’s responsible for much of what Krypton would be.

        But I think the artist here is David Ross. Curt Swan worked on the Kirk in Starfleet Academy annual.

      • Very fair point!

        Sorry. I’ve been trying to keep up with everything so occasionally my wires get crossed. 🙂

      • Curt Swan did Annual 3 of the first series. This is the Peter David written story about Scotty. The academy issue he did,but with the help of James Fry and Arrne Star. Vol 1 Annual 3 is his only solo art job for the series.

      • Thanks Zeno!

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