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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (DC Comics, 1986) (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

The comic book adaptation of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home does a surprisingly good job of translating the comedy adventure into comic book form. Relying the creative team of Mike W. Barr and artist Tom Sutton to produce a one-shot comic book adaptation of the feature film, DC Comics have reached a point where they are able to consistently and reliably churn out comic books based around the Star Trek franchise.

Indeed, one might imagine that the somewhat lighter tone of The Voyage Home would pose a challenge for the duo, eschewing the grand space opera of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in favour of something more firmly rooted in modern sensibilities. However, Barr and Sutton do a wonderful job adapting the screenplay into a charming comic, even if it does seem to be aimed more squarely at hardcore Star Trek fans than casual viewers.

Standing tall...

Standing tall…

There are remarkably few changes made to the core of The Voyage Home. Unlike Vonda McIntyre’s novelisation of the film, it seems like Barr and Sutton trust the script to be funny and engaging – there’s no attempt to “soften” the gags to maintain continuity or character. The Voyage Home is meant to be a Star Trek comedy in the broadest of strokes, and the comic book adaptation reflects this. It maintains most of the film’s goofy humour, trusting the readers to take it in the spirit intended.

The cuts made seem to have been made primarily for time, but – even then – Barr and Sutton are conscious of the differences between film and comic books. The most obvious omission is the wonderful “nuclear wessels” sequence, but that is a gag that would inevitably work better on film than in print. The beauty of that scene is Walter Koenig’s Chekov cluelessly asking for the location of the nuclear arsenal in a Russian accent. It’s hard to convey all that on the panel.

Shadows on the sun...

Shadows on the sun…

In contrast, the best gags in the adaptation are visual. The “exact change” gag is even funnier on the panel, where Barr and Sutton have complete control over the spacing of the sequence. Kirk and Spock get on. There is a beat panel. Kirk and Spock get off. Realising that comic books are in inherently visual medium, Barr and Sutton emphasise those jokes – Scotty picking up the mouse to speak into it, or Kirk reading the location of the whales on the side of a bus.

(Indeed, even the other truncated gags are conscious of the difference between film and comic books. For example, the confusion over the gender of the patient in the hospital, leading to Kirk’s “one little mistake” line is a little risqué, but it works better in film – where the audience can wonder “did I hear that?” In contrast, it’s a lot more difficult to put something that risqué on a panel where the reader can definitely confirm that they saw it. While an understandable cut, it’s a shame to lose the gag for awkward exposition, as Bones sets up the line with “real physicians do not forget their patient’s gender, Admiral.”)

Previously on Star Trek...

Previously on Star Trek…

What few additions or enhancements that Barr and Sutton make to the script, they seem to make as inside Star Trek jokes. This makes a great deal of sense. After all, the audience for a major motion picture is inevitably going to be much larger than that for a comic book adaptation of a major motion picture. So Barr and Sutton are a little more free to play some “inside baseball”, including various shout-outs and references that serve to bring The Voyage Home even further in line with the Star Trek mythos.

For example, they include a much larger cameo for Christine Chapel than the final cut of the film afforded, with Sarek directly addressing her as he arrives for the Federation Council Meeting that opened the film. It’s a strange decision; it hurts the pacing of the scene, and Sarek’s entrance is much more effective if he makes it in direct opposition to the pontifications of the Klingon Ambassador against James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise.

The Kirk manoeuvre...

The Kirk manoeuvre…

Still, Barr and Sutton find time for additional little character moments on top of what the finished cut of the film afforded. “I’m a doctor, not an oceanographer!” McCoy offers on the crew’s arrival in the twentieth century. Kirk’s seduction of Gillian Taylor is a lot more overt than in the final version of the feature film. “I bet you’re a damn good poker player,” she remarks to Kirk. “The best,” he replies, pulling her in close for a kiss. It’s not a development that helps the plot – Gillian is a lot more interesting if Kirk doesn’t sweep her off her feet – but it does seem to play into the romantic ideal of Kirk as it exists in fandom.

Barr and Sutton’s adaptation of The Voyage Home is efficient and confident. It’s an adaptation that feels comfortable enough with the source material that it does not feel the need to re-contextualise or to re-work various elements of the finished film. It’s a demonstration of just how well these two creators worked together on Star Trek spin-offs in the eighties.

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