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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Marvel Comics) #3-4 – The Cancer Within (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

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

Poor Doctor Pulaski. She seems to have just disappeared from the canon. First season casualty Tasha Yar seemed to haunt to the show, returning for Yesterday’s Enterprise while her daughter become a recurring foe from The Mind’s Eye onwards. Even Wesley popped back every once in a while following his departure from the series. Pulaski, on the other hand, remains something of a phantom.

Barring an audible reference to her made in the background during the Star Trek: Voyager finalé Endgame, she disappears from the franchise without so much as a peep at the end of Shades of Grey.  She isn’t even referenced by name in the first episode of the third season to air (Evolution) or the first produced (The Ensigns of Command). While Beverly Crusher’s return is used as a plot point for Wesley, we only get the most fleeting of references to Pulaski in Who Watches the Watchers?

While this can easily be explained by the complex relationship that Diana Muldaur seems to have with Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has suggested the atmosphere on set was decidedly unfriendly, so the fact that Pulaski doesn’t return should not be that much of a surprise. What is interesting is the general apathy that the expanded universe seems to have for Pulaski. While even guest characters seem to get their own back stories and development in novels and comics, Pulaski is treated as a decidedly minor character in the Star Trek canon, reduced to guest spots and small appearances.

I like my family reunions generic and bland...

I like my family reunions generic and bland…

To be fair, Pulaski has appeared in a number of places. She headlined Vectors, the Double Helix tie-in book set on Terok Nor during the Cardassian Occupation, written by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. she was – to be fair – one of the primary characters in that novel, sharing focus with Gul Dukat. However, that was very much the exception rather than the rule. Most of her appearances seem to be cameos or small roles.

For example, she popped up in a Starfleet Corps of Engineers book, Progress. However, Pulaski was only really a gateway to the novel’s use of the character Sarjenka from Pen Pals, who becomes a regular in the book series. Keith R.A. DeCandido has her pop up in A Time for War, A Time for Peace, incorporating her into the wedding of Riker and Troi, a ceremony that – in Star Trek: Nemesis – included characters like Guinan and Wesley, even if their scenes were ultimately cut. In the “relaunch” novels that extend beyond the film and television series, she has a small role in David Mack’s A Ceremony of Losses.

Defiant 'til the last...

Defiant ’til the last…

This may seem like a lot of exposure, but it’s relatively minor for a character who appeared in a full season of a Star Trek show. For example, Ezri Dax has become one of the fixtures of the expanded universe. In fact, she’s become one of the primary characters of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch. Next Generation recurring guest star Ro Laren has also become a popular character, and the various novel lines have found room and space for most of the regular cast members from the various Star Trek shows. Even “deceased” characters like Charles Tucker and Benjamin Sisko get to come back and play.

But not Pulaski. This is understandable. Pulaski was not necessarily a popular character. She was the replacement for a member of the ensemble who took a gap year. She got one character-focus episode, and it was pretty terrible. As Muldaur’s request, Pulaski wasn’t even added to the show’s opening credits – although a de facto regular for the second season (appearing in all but two episodes), Muldaur was credits as a guest star. So Pulaski seems like a character fated to be forgotten and dismissed, a footnote in the history of the franchise.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

It just seems a little strange that that Pulaski does wind up getting used in these expanded universe material, more out of a sense of completeness and obligation than out of any real desire to utilise or even explore the character. Her inclusion often feels like the answer to a trivia question, as if she’s the Next Generation cast member designed to catch people out at table quizzes. She’s the Pete Best of The Next Generation, the member of the ensemble who was briefly around when the show was figuring out what it wanted to be, but left before things really took off.

So she’s a niggly little bit of continuity more than a compelling character. As such, it makes sense that Pulaski would show up in a nineties Marvel Star Trek comics. Comic books have a tendency to engage in continuity fetishism, acting as if something is important or interesting simply because it’s something that the reader might recognise. With Star Trek fans being similarly prone to continuity fetishism, it’s no wonder that Star Trek comics should be so interested in continuity loose ends or references.

Punching the clock... and some bad guys...

Punching the clock… and some bad guys…

And so Pulaski ends up used as a minor character in stories like The Cancer Within. In this story – told in the third and fourth issues of Marvel’s Deep Space Nine tie-in comic – there’s really no reason to include Pulaski. The adventure would flow pretty fine without her. She makes a fleeting reference to knowing Chief O’Brien and Worf from the Enterprise. There’s maybe even a reference to the fact that she got on well with Worf, in that she greets him in Klingon. And yet, she’s completely superfluous to the story… such as it is.

The Cancer Within is a rather generic little story. It’s a Star Trek comic on autopilot. The voices are all wrong – Sisko refers to Bashir by his first name repeatedly, in one of the more obvious examples, and Pulaski doesn’t seem to resemble the curmudgeon from The Next Generation particularly well. The art is very much in the nineties Marvel house style, which means that Chief O’Brien is portrayed somewhat awkwardly. He alternates from the familiar Irish engineer to a generic blonde athletic superhero with ease.

Deep space suits...

Deep space suits…

The comic’s plot is pretty standard fare. The Maquis have been designing a biological weapon. As these things tend to do in science-fiction, the biological agent goes horribly wrong – it’s accidentally unleashed and begins infecting the people who designed it. It ultimately spreads to the station, where it infects Kira and Jake Sisko, to generate some stakes. At this point, the plot should seem fairly familiar. Most Star Trek shows like to do “virus infects the ship or station” early in their runs. Deep Space Nine had Babel, which also motivated Sisko by putting Jake at risk.

Anyway, it turns out that Pulaski’s daughter designed the virus. It’s interesting how Pulaski’s extended family tends to pop up in these stories, as if trying to humanise her. One of her ex-husbands is featured in Vectors, as a way of drawing Pulaski into the plot. However, these familial attachments don’t build character – they seem simply expedient to the plot. We don’t discover much about Pulaski’s relationship to her daughter, or about her family life in general. Instead, she is there simply because she’s a face that Star Trek fans might recognise.

A (Ma)quis victory?

A (Ma)quis victory?

Which seems to be Pulaski’s primary function once you get past Shades of Grey.

Read our reviews of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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