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Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips – Beware the Omnimind! (aka Restructuring is Futile) (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.

As brilliant as the Borg were when they were introduced in Q Who?, they were hardly the most original of constructs. The cybernetic aliens went on to become one of the most iconic and recognisable pieces of Star Trek lore, featuring in the most popular Star Trek: The Next Generation feature film and all the subsequent spin-offs, but it’s tempting to give the Borg a bit more credit than they’re due.

After all, cybernetic organisms were hardly cutting edge in 1989. In fact, this wasn’t even the first time that Star Trek had told this kind of story. In late 1981, the Star Trek news paper strip that had begun as a companion piece to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, featured a similar adversary for Kirk’s Enterprise.

Resistance is futile!

Resistance is futile!

Indeed, Beware the Omnimind! (also known as Restructuring is Futile) has become one of the more popular storylines told in the syndicated newspaper strip. It was certainly one of the more high profile strips when IDW released a deluxe hardcover printing of the collection. The storyline was mentioned on the back cover (“seven years before the first appearance of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation – the seeds are sown when Kirk and the Klingons learn to beware the Omnimind!”) and frequently cited in pre-release interviews.

The introduction of the second collection (“to Borg or not to Borg…”) is devoted almost entirely to the storyline. Writer J.C. Vaughn describes it as a “proto-Borg” story and spends a great deal of time going into the various similarities between the alien nemesis featured in Beware the Omnimind! and the Borg that would eventually appear as villains on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s quite distracting how much emphasis the collection puts on the comic, with no real focus on Larry Niven’s The Wristwatch Plantation, which is arguably just as worthy of discussion and attention.

There's Klingon's on the starboard bow!

There’s Klingon’s on the starboard bow!

Then again, that’s perhaps an indication of just how iconic the Borg are, that their influence extends backwards in time, retroactively casting a shadow over the franchise’s history. In a way, Star Trek: Enterprise made this literal with Regeneration, but it’s also evident in how so many fan theories (and even William Shatner’s The Return) have tried to retroactively graft the Borg back into “machine planet” fleeting mentioned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Still, Beware the Omnimind! does invite these comparisons. It demonstrates just how brilliantly these sorts of high concepts could be integrated into the tapestry of Star Trek. After all, Q Who? was produced after a decade of cyberpunk had made the concept of cyborgs and machine minds part of the pop culture landscape. Written seven years before Q Who? aired, Beware the Omnimind! hits on many of the same themes and big ideas – introducing something of a precursor to the Borg.

The hunt is on...

The hunt is on…

It is hard to read Beware the Omnimind! without thinking of the Borg. Even the setting of the story’s opening sequence – a destroyed planet – evokes The Neutral Zone or The Best of Both Worlds. In the story itself, once we meet the Omnimind, there’s the same sense of a greater consciousness at play. “I am a servant,” one being claims on encountering the Enterprise away team. “One part of the whole.”

At another point, Kirk discovers the the crew of a renegade Klingon ship have been augmented with cybernetic parts, and made slaves to the Omnimind. “The robots have increased the strength of the Klingons by a fascinating application of neurohydraulic prosthetics!” Spock observes. Even Ron Harris’ designs for the converted Klingons and some of the cybernetic resistance can’t help but seem eerily familiar.

Warp speed!

Warp speed!

At the same time, Beware the Omnimind! makes it quite clear that the villainous organism is not purely robotic. There is some biological element at play. “These robots are relentless and fanatical in their purpose,” Spock remarks, “fanaticism is an unusual quality for a machine intelligence… and it is difficult to reason logically with fanatics!” Later on, he asserts, “I believe we’re not dealing with a pure machine intelligence, Captain…” This sinister adversary exists as the fusion of flesh and machine, rather than exclusively one or the other.

Even the Omnimind’s stated purpose seems familiar. The Enterprise receives a warning message hinting at the scale of the threat posed by the Omnimind – “the threat of total genocide.” When Kirk encounters a resistance that fights against the tyrannical regime, they explain the Omnimind’s raison d’être. “Myself and the other cyborgs represent the gradual slip in the Omnimind’s programing, Captain… It wished to protect, then to perfect, biological organisms.” Perfection is the goal.

Worlds (blown) apart...

Worlds (blown) apart…

Ultimately, the analogy isn’t quite perfect. The Omnimind isn’t quite a collective consciousness – it is very heavily driven by one individual mind rather than a conglomerate. The Omnimind is eventually revealed to be directed by an organic life form terrified of death and trying to ensure his own existence. Kirk and Spock are able to reason with this individual and to shut down the Omnimind once and for all.

Still, there are enough similarities here that the comparison stands. The Borg do feel like a logical extension of themes that played out here in a newspaper strip published years before The Next Generation was even greenlit. It’s a bit too much to claim that the work of writer Sharman DiVono and artist Ron Harris invented the Borg, but it is a demonstration of how comfortably those themes fit within the Star Trek framework, and how the Borg weren’t so much a radical original concept as an increasingly familiar pop culture fear that were executed rather brilliantly.

Into the void...

Into the void…

It’s also a nice reminder of just how interesting and worthwhile stuff like The Newspaper Strips can be. The universe of Star Trek is so large and so expansive that there’s always something interesting to discover buried in the past, and it’s quite difficult for a franchise this old and this expansive to have a truly original idea – even within the context of its own expanded universe. A beautiful demonstration of just how rich and deep the history of Star Trek can be.

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

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