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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1989) #49-50 – The Peacekeepers (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is something quite disconcerting about Gary Seven.

Abducted from Earth at a young age by a race of mysterious aliens, Gary Seven was then returned to Earth in order to ensure that human history unfolds as expected. The unstated assumption is that “as expected” is a euphemism for “according to the wishes of his mysterious employers.” Using his advanced technology, Gary Seven manipulates the world around him. His technology allows him to cloud the minds of his enemies, and to materialise wherever he might wish. He tinkers with nuclear weapons, keeping his existence – and his objectives – a secret from the local people.

Everything comes apart...

Everything comes apart…

It is interesting to wonder how Assignment: Earth might have developed had it successfully spun off from Star Trek. After all, a pilot does not exist to completely define a new television show; it exists to set up a framework through which interesting stories might be told. Would a weekly television show built around Gary Seven have explored these big questions? Or would it have been content to exist as an imitation of Mission: Impossible? As with ever road not taken, it is absolutely impossible to be sure where it might lead.

Still, Howard Weinstein’s The Peacekeepers teases out some of these interesting questions and queries. Even if it never really offers any answers, there is a lot to chew over.

A spectre...

A spectre…

The Peacekeepers is clearly set relatively late in the classic Star Trek canon. Admiral Cartwright makes an appearance, dating the comic to before Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The targets used in Federation war simulations are Klingon Birds of Prey, suggesting a looming conflict. Kirk is still coming to terms with the loss of David Marcus. It feels like The Peacekeepers takes place at a time of quiet reflection for James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise.

When Gary Seven returns, he is also older. His hair has greyed, despite his decelerated ageing. Although Isis still keeps him company, Roberta Lincoln is absent from the story; the reader is invited to wonder whether Gary Seven outlived his human companion. Indeed, much like Kirk was promoted to admiral, Gary Seven arrives on the Enterprise with news that he has also been promoted. “Nice to be remembered,” he admits, “though it’s Senior Supervisor 194 now.” There is a sense that this is a story about two old men in conversation.

Shattered peace...

Shattered peace…

In many respects, Gary Seven embodies the worst aspects of Gene Roddenberry’s utopianism. Roddenberry believed in a world where “there will be no hunger, there will be no greed and all the children will know how to read.” This is an ideal to strive towards. However, Roddenberry’s ideas on how that world worked frequently seemed clumsy or awkward. Hunger and greed were not eliminated by careful resource management or thoughtfulness; magic replicator technology made it possible for everybody to have what they wanted.

Similarly, Roddenberry’s utopia was built on the idea that human beings were special and superior to any other force in the universe; that mankind did not need to strike a balance with other culture, but could instead travel around and lecture species like the Ferengi or the Anticans or the Selay. The Federation was not just one path to utopia; it was the only path. More than that, there was an uncomfortably fascist subtext to some of his work. When Melinda Snodgrass pitched The Measure of a Man, Roddenberry argued that Data should volunteer to undergo the procedure for the greater good.

Blowing off steam...

Blowing off steam…

Gary Seven feels like an expression of all these worst aspects of Roddenberry’s utopianism. Interestingly, Star Trek often seems divided on the question of Kirk’s moral authority. The show seems to alternate between embracing Kirk’s power to shape the cosmos according to his whims and cautioning against the dangers of such moral certainty. Gary Seven is a character who sits uncomfortably amidst the moral ambiguity of stories like Errand of Mercy or Mirror, Mirror. However, he would feel perfectly at home in Friday’s Child, The AppleA Private Little War or The Omega Glory.

Assignment: Earth embraces Gary Seven and his mission at face value. It is, after all, a story credited to Gene Roddenberry – even if Art Wallace wrote the actual teleplay. Both Kirk and Spock seem content to leave twentieth-century Earth in the care of a powerful and mysterious figure working for anonymous benefactors in service of some unknown objective. Gary Seven is tasked with subtly leading the people of Earth along the “right” path, influencing the planet in ways beyond the comprehension of its inhabitants.

"Not now, Chekov! You're wearing red!"

“Not now, Chekov! You’re wearing red!”

However, when Howard Weinstein returned to the character of Gary Seven in the context of The Peacekeepers, the writer was a lot more willing to challenge the character and the ethics of his mission. In many ways, The Peacekeepers unfolds a lot like Assignment: Earth should have played out. Gary Seven is no longer a character trying desperately to launch his own show so that Gene Roddenberry can keep working; instead, he is a guest character operating within the broader ethical framework of the Star Trek universe.

“So… you’re asking us to help you hunt down a group of your own people… whose main goal is to keep this Aegis of yours from meddling in the affairs of intelligent species all over the galaxy?” Kirk asks, after Seven requests his assistance in tracking down a bunch of renegade operatives. “I’m not sure these rebels should be stopped. You know all about the Federation’s non-interference directive. What your ‘intervention specialists’ do violates that.” It is nice to have Kirk call Seven out on this logical contradiction.

Crystal clear...

Crystal clear…

To be fair, The Peacekeepers never pushes the point as far as it might. Gary Seven never really questions his orders or his place in the universe; the story dances around the fact that Gary Seven’s unwavering loyalty in his superiors – “the Aegis” – borders on the fanatical. Nobody mentions that Seven was taken from Earth at a young age, too young to question or challenge whatever he was taught. The Peacekeepers broaches some interesting subject matter, but rather gently.

That said, Weinstein does avoid the same awkwardness that marked the conclusion to Assignment: Earth. Even if Gary Seven is never challenged as directly as he really should be, The Peacekeepers ends with Kirk rather ambivalent towards the intergalactic super-spy. Nothing is ultimately resolved, even if Kirk and Seven have to ally themselves this time. There is no friendly pat on the back, no promise of brave future adventures; just an acknowledgement of moral ambiguity. After all, The Peacekeepers never endorses Gary Seven.

You said it, Spock...

You said it, Spock…

When Bones tries to argue in defence of Gary Seven, it is telling that he cites Kirk’s violations of the Prime Directive in episodes like The Apple and Friday’s Child. However, they were individual instances where Kirk made a snap decision. They were not a systematic attempt to manipulate and cajole the history of an entire planet from the shadows. Although Kirk does not point this out to McCoy, the rhetoric does little to set Kirk’s mind at ease. After all, The Apple and Friday’s Child are hardly consider distilled Star Trek classics.

More than that, the villains in The Peacekeepers serve as an effective foil to Seven, a number of individuals haunted by past failures and rejecting the moral authority of their superiors. Their leader, Shopay, shares the story of one attempted intervention that went horribly wrong – one attempt to play god that destroyed an entire alien civilisation in its arrogance. Shopay assures both Scotty and Chekov, “Lots of our interventions have failed…” After all, playing with those stakes, losses are inevitable.

What's the matter you?

What’s the (proto)matter you?

When Shopay comes face-to-face with Seven, he makes a valid point about their mysterious benefactors, describing them as “kidnappers… slave masters.” Seven counters, “That’s ridiculous, Shopay. You’re not slaves. You’re free to leave the Aegis.” Are they? These children were taken from their homes at an early age and inducted into a particular lifestyle. It seems unlikely that their superiors value free will. After all, would they really allow people with this knowledge to retire into civilian life? That accident which killed Seven’s predecessors now seems quite suspicious.

Weinstein plays with a lot of the ideas and questions left dangling from Assignment: Earth, even if he is never as subversive or as critical as he might be. There are a wealth of good ideas here. In fact, Weinstein cleverly builds an entire world around Gary Seven, offering glimpses of agents from all walks of life and hinting at secret enemies at play. “Do you really believe my sponsors are the only force affecting events?” Seven asks at one point, suggesting that Seven is caught in a scheme not too different from the Temporal Cold War featured on Star Trek: Enterprise.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

Weinstein also works hard to foreshadow The Undiscovered Country, suggesting that the Federation and the Klingon Empire are nudging ever-closer to war. Admiral Cartwright suggests that the protomatter weapon is “as near to an absolute deterrent as we may ever have.” There are implications that the Federation is building weapons of mass destruction, harnessing the science behind the Genesis Device to devastating effect. Weinstein is making some very clear parallels between this weapon and the weapons that Seven disabled in Assignment: Earth.

Weinstein leans rather heavily on this point. “I’m beginning to think that Cartwright’s got his own personal agenda!” Kirk confesses to Spock in a moment of awkward foreshadowing. That said, The Peacekeepers does have just a trace of wry awareness. As Kirk receives his orders, he muses, “Using a ship called ‘Pacific’ as a doomsday weapon test bed… irony? Or heavy-handed symbolism?” A willingness to acknowledge that “heavy-handed symbolism” can go a long way towards redeeming or excusing it.

And your little cat, too!

And your little cat, too!

Weinstein also seems to use The Peacekeepers as an excuse to criticise some of the thematic underpinnings of The Undiscovered Country. As with The Undiscovered Country, the death of David Marcus hangs heavy on Kirk’s mind. However, The Peacekeepers suggests that the loss of his son would make Kirk more skeptical of war and violence, rather than fuelling a hatred of Klingons. “Give it to me straight, Bones… is my son’s death keeping me from seeing the good side of this protomatter weapon?” Kirk asks. “Am I letting my personal ghosts cloud my judgement?”

The Peacekeepers is a fascinating story, albeit one that doesn’t delve as deeply into the morality of Gary Seven as much as it might. Still, it provides an interesting exploration of the spy’s world, particularly through the lense of the Star Trek franchise as a whole.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of the classic Star Trek:

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