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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) – Blood and Honour (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Whatever is to be done about the Romulans?

In space, all warriors are cold warriors...

In space, all warriors are cold warriors…

They are pretty important to the mythos. The Romulans were introduced as the first big Star Trek baddies, much earlier than the Klingons. They were reintroduced as a big deal in The Neutral Zone, the first season finalé of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They appeared as the villains in not only in Star Trek: Nemesis, but also in JJ Abrams’ 2009 rebooted Star Trek; the last piece of 24th-century Star Trek and last Star Trek feature film of the Berman era, along with the first piece of an entirely new Star Trek lore.

And yet, despite these important appearances, the Romulans have always been somewhat hard to pin down. They are not as defined or iconic as the Klingons. They do not appear as frequently in the franchise, and they do not play as important a role. Their characterisation was reversed dramatically between their appearances in classic Star Trek and The Next Generation, without anybody blinking an eye.

Lighten up!

Lighten up!

For a while, it seemed like The Next Generation had figured out a niche for the Romulans. They could be the multi-faceted cold war enemy, a nuanced and complex antagonist with a tendency toward subterfuge and espionage rather than brunt force. However, that was not to be. With the introduction of the Cardassians in The Wounded, it seemed like The Next Generation found its own unique cold warriors for the Federation. It often seemed like the Romulans were redundant.

With Star Trek: Voyager taking place in the Delta Quadrant and Star Trek: Enterprise set before Balance of Terror, it seemed like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might be the last chance to properly develop and explore the Romulans. Sure, the Romulans appeared a couple of times in the later spin-offs, but those were not shows capable of doing the sort of world-building and development that had fleshed out the Klingons and the Ferengi and the Cardassians.

Explosive revelations...

Explosive revelations…

It seemed like the Romulans were mostly used as convenient (and adversarial) Star Trek aliens whenever the Klingons would not fit or were too loaded with iconography. In Star Trek: Nemesis, the Romulans provide a convenient backdrop for Picard to face an evil clone of himself in a story structured around Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek, the destruction of Romulus is a plot device used to motivates the baddie, in a story that is also structured around Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

As such, the Romulans make nice familiar aliens when you don’t want to have to worry too much about the nuances of Klingon culture or about conflicting with the well-defined Klingon culture and history. When Star Trek: Voyager makes contact with a potentially hostile Alpha Quadrant alien in Eye of the Needle, it is Romulan. When the Emergency Medical Hologram finds himself on-board a hijacked Federation ship in Prometheus, it has been hijacked by Romulans.

Guess whose coming to Bajor...

Guess whose coming to Bajor…

At this point in the franchise’s history, Romulans are pretty much go-to Star Trek baddies; and little more. There were episodes like Face of the Enemy and The Defector during The Next Generation that teased the development and exploration of Romulan culture, but the franchise moved past that quickly enough. Interestingly, it seemed like Enterprise might have had something worthwhile to say about the Romulans in its final seasons, had the show not been cancelled.

Sadly, Deep Space Nine did not have that much time for the Romulans. It tried to introduce them into the plot a number of times over the course of the run, with minimal success. The Search gave the station a ship with a Romulan cloaking device and a Romulan attaché. Subcommander T’Rul was never mentioned again. When the showrunners decided that they wanted a recurring Romulan character for the show’s final season, they invented a new one. Cretek was played by two actresses in her three appearances.

Hardly an Organic story development...

Hardly an Organic story development…

The Romulans would occasionally play an important part in the show’s on-going plots, but always as a secondary concern. Although they took part in the attack on the Dominion in The Die is Cast, they were very much secondary partners. The incident had massive implications for the development of the Cardassians, but the Romulans seemed to shrug it off. The Romulans were a vital part of In the Pale Moonlight, but very much secondary to Sisko’s character arc.

Deep Space Nine never afforded the Romulans the same development that it gave the Klingons or the Cardassians or the Ferengi or the Dominion. The Romulans were always just sort of there. During the final episodes of the show, it would seem like the war was being plotted by Admiral Ross, General (or Chancellor) Martok and some random Romulan they’d found in a corridor somewhere. When the Romulan flagship is casually destroyed in What You Leave Behind, it is hard to care too much.

"He's dead, Ben!"

“He’s dead, Ben!”

This makes Blood and Honour a rather interesting comic. Co-written by Mark Lenard, Blood and Honour is a conscious effort to bring the Romulans a full circle from their first appearance in Balance of Terror all those years ago. It is the kind of story that Deep Space Nine does very well, a story about the cycles of history and the patterns in which such things unfold. Deep Space Nine is a show that is fascinated with the consequences of past actions.

At one point, Romulan Ambassador Jannak sits down for a drink with Ensign Jamie Kirk. She cannot understand why he would be interested in her; she is inexperienced and young. He muses, “Sometimes you have to look elsewhere to see the whole picture. Have a more historical viewpoint.” There is a sense that Jannak is looking at a much larger picture than the rest of the cast; perhaps befitting a character who measures his life in centuries.

The Circle is broken!

The Circle is broken!

Deep Space Nine is a show very much interested in the arc of history. Cardassia’s narrative arc begins with the destruction of Bajor, before that same destruction is visited upon them. The show’s central plot unfolds in the wake of sixty years of Cardassian oppression. This fixation with history takes place even outside the narrative. Of all the various spin-offs, Deep Space Nine was the show that felt the strongest connection to the original Star Trek show, to the point where it brought back three classic Klingons for Blood Oath.

So it feels strangely appropriate that Mark Lenard should be given a chance to write a story that officially builds off the ending of Balance of Terror. In that iconic episode, an anonymous Romulan commander had suggested that – “in another life” – he and Kirk might have been friends instead of mortal enemies. Blood and Honour cannot quite deliver that other life, but it can offer a glimpse of a potential friendship between the descendent of Kirk and that anonymous Romulan commander.

Reruns!

Reruns!

Blood and Honour meditates on the idea of cycle of violence. “Among our people, the cry of vengeance is handed down from father to son until meted out,” Jannak reflects, demonstrating how violence and hatred inevitably begets more violence and hatred. Blood and Honour even teases the audience, inviting them to speculate that the Romulans are behind the murders and theft on the station. Instead, it turns out to be the Circle, resurgent.

Of course, the script is a little clumsy in places. The Circle reveal feels like it should be a bigger moment; it should be more substantial. There is no real explanation of who these people are, or what they do. They provide a nice thematic resonance to a plot about prejudice and hatred, but Blood and Honour doesn’t properly set it up. It is a connection that feel under-developed, to say nothing of the revelation that the mysterious artefact is really an Organian from Errand of Mercy.

The Orinocco flow!

The Orinocco flow!

Similarly, the writing of Jamie Kirk feels a little heavy-handed, as if the script is winking rather heavily at the reader. “My family has always seemed more at home among the stars,” she observes, which seems like quite a redundant thing to say to anybody who knows she is related to James Tiberius Kirk. “To boldly go where no one has ever gone before, Jamie?” Bashir asks. It is certainly in-character for Bashir, but it seems really awkward.

How many times do you imagine she has heard that one? It feels like they are winking about her famous family member, event hough everybody on the runabout knows who that family member is. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that anybody reading the comic would not get it immediately. It’s a rather clumsy way of conveying a plot point. It would probably be better to just leave the character as “Ensign Jamie Kirk” and have Jannak make the reveal later on.

Deep space nine, the not-so-final frontier...

Deep space nine, the not-so-final frontier…

Blood and Honour feels a little over-stuffed with references and call-backs, to the point where it feels a little contrived that all these elements of the past should find themselves circling back at the precise same time. It is very easy to lose the heart of the story in the midst of all these continuity references and shout-outs. It feels like Blood and Honour might have been a much stronger story if it were cleaner in execution.

Still, there’s something quite heart-warming about the idea that the Federation and the Romulans might be able to find themselves at peace; that the two races might be able to understand and respect one another. Things come around. There is the potential for hope. Even the most ardent enemies can become allies, given enough time and enough hope.

You might be interested in our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

2 Responses

  1. Interesting review. I admit I’d never heard about this comic before.

    One thing I found fascinating about the Romulans in DS9 is the way that Romulans, for all their arrogance and menace are continously revealed to be far less intelligent and powerful than they like to think. It is the Tal Shiar the Founders inflitrate rather than the Obsidian Order (“You always used to say that the Tal Shiar were sloppy” as Garak said to Tain.) Later we find out Section 31 seems to be pulling a lot of strings on Romulus and they are bambozzled into war by Garak and Sisko.

    Nor is this portrayal restricted to DS9. In ‘Nemesis’ (a poor film but still) the entire Romulan ruling class is unable to see a coup coming right under their nose.

    I don’t think this is a bad thing to be clear, in fact I loved all the episodes those events happened in but it does seem to point that the Romulans are far from the masterminds they like to think they are.

    • That’s a pretty great observation. The Romulans really are pretty crappy, when you stop to think about it.

      (There’s arguably examples of that to be found in TNG as well. Unification is a gloriously convoluted evil plan that never seems particularly well thought-out and is defeated by a two-dimensional grid in three-dimensional space. To say nothing about how – despite all the effort and planning put in – Tomalak’s plan in The Defector ultimately doesn’t work because he only had three ships instead of five.)

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