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Star Trek/X-Men: Star TreX (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.

Being honest, I’m surprised that it took this long for one of the comic book publishers working with a Star Trek license to come up with the idea of crossing over Star Trek with one of their comic book properties. After all, Barbara Hambly’s Ishmael crossed the franchise over with Here Come the Brides, another piece of cult sixties television. Crossing Star Trek over with a decidedly pulpy comic book franchise was really the next logical step.

Indeed, while DC Comics would eventually get involved in the publication of a crossover with The Legion of Superheroes, I remain surprised that they never tried to cross the franchise over with Green Lantern while they were publishing monthly Star Trek comic books. Both franchises are products of a sixties outlook on space travel and on America’s post-war role in the wider world (and, well, universe), and they’d be tailor-made to fit together.

However, it wasn’t until Marvel managed to secure the Star Trek license in 1996 that our heroes had their first encounter with a proper superhero franchise.

X-over...

X-over…

Star TreX was very clearly rushed out. The plot – as much as it exists – is paper thin. There’s a sense that Lobdell’s script could have used a few more drafts to tidy everything up. His Star Trek dialogue is close enough, but his phrasing is a little awkward – there’s a sense that Star TreX is the work of somebody who is casually familiar with Star Trek, and never really given a second look by a more hardcore fan. Spock describes the X-Men as “something between human and humanoids”, which is a bit hard to reconcile with the franchise’s use of the word “humanoid.” At another point, an alien ship dropped out of “cloaked mode.”

Similarly, the plotting and structure is all over the place. The comic’s plot makes huge leaps in order to get to where it needs to go, and it never really pauses to bring anybody up to speed. There’s an unspoken assumption that this comic isn’t for casual fans of either franchise. Readers unfamiliar with either the X-Men or Star Trek are likely to be confused by key plot elements drawn from both franchises with minimal context. Who is Proteus, Star Trek fans might wonder? Who is Gary Mitchell, X-Men fans will ask themselves?

Which one is the real McCoy?

Which one is the real McCoy?

The comic is the work of no less than four different pencilers. These are recognisable names to Marvel fans – Marc Silvestri, Billy Tan, David Finch, Anthony Winn – but the fact that there are so many of them working on a single book suggests that the comic was rushed to print. And the reason why marvel would wanted to have get the book on the stands as quickly as possible is quite apparent.

It feels like a conscious declaration that Marvel Comics now owns the rights to publish Star Trek comics. The comic is essentially one gigantic celebration of Marvel’s acquisition of the license – with considerable space devoted to various upcoming Marvel comic book projects like Starfleet Academy, Early Voyages and Deep Space Nine. Along with a gallery of pin-up artwork, this really feels like a showcase. Even the quality of the artists working on the book is designed to assure readers that this is definitely a very big deal.

Highly illogical...

Highly illogical…

While the Star Trek comics at DC had been largely insulated from the rest of the line, Marvel was very much pushing these as a comic book property. As a result, there were lots of “collectors edition” one-shots like Operation: Assimilation or Mirror, Mirror. Marvel would arrange a big line-wide crossover with their Telepathy War event, which was consciously written in the style of big nineties comic book events. So opening up this relationship by crossing over the X-Men and Star Trek makes sense.

There are really two key ways that you can make a crossover like this work. The first is to recognise that both Star Trek and X-Men are grounded in the same pop culture zeitgeist. They were both created as pulpy American science-fiction in the sixties, allowing the writers to deal with the big issues of the day. Both Star Trek and X-Men offered analogies for the Civil Rights movement and metaphorical commentary on contemporary America. They both mean a lot to a particular generation of young people who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and both speak to sixties idealism in their own way.

Yes, Kirk. Yes he did.

Yes, Kirk. Yes he did.

The other way to make a crossover like this to work is to play up the cheesy pulpy science-fiction aspect of it – to acknowledge that both Star Trek and X-Men are larger-than-life cult franchises that are widely loved and feature a selection of iconic characters that you can throw together in order to generate conflict or bombast. This approach plays off the pop culture recognition that both franchises have accrued and amounts to throwing the toys at one another to watch what happens. Star TreX opts for the latter approach – which supports the sense that all of this was a bit rushed.

It’s a lot easier to just play off catchphrases and cosmetic similarities and contrasts than it is to use the franchises to dig into the heart of each other. So the characters feel rather one-dimensional, often reduced to a collection of popular quirks. James T. Kirk hits on Jean Grey, because everybody remembers his womanising, right? Spock gives Wolverine a nerve pinch, because that’s what Spock does, eh? And… eh… Scotty says “I know this ship like I know the back of my hand”, because it’s close to what he said in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and it was in all the trailers. Look, two Doctor McCoys!

It'll do in a pinch...

It’ll do in a pinch…

Okay, it’s not all bad. There is a certain trashy cheesy charm to all of this. After all, for all that Star Trek and X-Men have rich cultural histories as grand metaphorical commentaries, they are also enjoyable pulpy entertainment. “Did he just… punch my ship?” Kirk muses when Gladiator punches the Enterprise at one point, which is probably the best moment of the entire crossover. Similarly, there’s something quite impressive about Spock putting Wolverine down without breaking a sweat.

And there is one moment that works really well, perhaps better than even Lobdell realises. After providing a rather brief summary of the events of Where No Man Has Gone Before, Kirk reflects on his decision to kill Gary Mitchell. “Gary couldn’t be allowed to roam the galaxy with–“ Jean Grey cuts him off, “With mutant powers? Is that a reason to kill someone?” It’s a lovely moment, because it hits perfectly on the limits of Star Trek‘s liberal values.

Guess who's coming to dinner...

Guess who’s coming to dinner…

For all the show celebrated diversity, it was also absolutely petrified of anything beyond the standard human template. Any human being ascending to a higher plane was treated as a monster who had lost touch with humanity. The notion of genetic engineering was presented as an unambiguous evil. There’s a very serious argument that could be made to suggest that Kirk’s Enterprise would have been just as petrified and horrified by mutantkind as the version of America presented in the comics.

However, the moment is fleeting. It is glossed over as soon as the suggestion is raised, as the comic moves on to the next item of interest. As a result, it all seems a little bit too generic and bland. For all the potential of bashing together Star Trek and X-Men, Star TreX never seems particularly enthused by the idea. That’s probably the most disappointing thing about the whole crossover, how rote it all feels.

Ship shape...

Ship shape…

At the same time, it does invite comparisons between the two franchises, and serves to capture two of the hottest pop culture properties in the late nineties. Geek culture had truly crossed over into the mainstream.

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

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