Thursday, May 15, 2014

Myriad Universes: The Wormhole Connection

I don't even need to come up with a Pop Christian reading. Just look at it.
It's important not to understate the importance of the launch of DC's first Star Trek comic line. For the entirety of its existence up to this point (and not counting the handful of US and UK newspaper comic strips that cropped up in the 1970s), Star Trek had been represented in sequential art form by Gold Key, a company basically run by about four people and with the somewhat dubious reputation of putting out all the licensed tie-in stuff simply to cash in on the brands of the day, regardless of quality (though they did have the rights to distribute Carl Bark's Duck stories in the US and gave Mark Evanier one of his first writing gigs on their Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! book, which has to count for something). And while there were some genuine gems in the Gold Key series, there is something of a sense that this was a book that existed pretty much because it had to and oftentimes felt like just another product in the Star Trek brand.

This is not to say DC's book is any less of a product or a tie-in, it absolutely is, but the climate is a little bit different in 1984 than it was in 1967. While Gold Key was attempting to promote a show that first wasn't exactly setting the Nielson ratings ablaze, and then technically didn't even exist as it puttered around in syndicated reruns for the next ten years. DC is coasting off of a successful movie and a wildly successful movie and launches right when a third movie is about to premier (a fact which is not without its problems, as I'll talk about later). With Star Trek big business at the box office now, Paramount began to clamp down on their tie-in line and invoked a much stricter sense of quality control over what went out under the Star Trek name, and that shows here, for better and for worse.

The first thing that's noticeable about this line is that it overtly follows the events of the last movie. Previous Star Trek comic stories have been standalone affairs that simply evoked the structure of the TV series without directly referencing onscreen events (a few nods in the Gold Key stories Doug Drexler worked on aside). This story, however, is explicitly designed to fit in with established canon, which is interesting as Star Trek doesn't actually have an established canon yet, considering Gene Roddenberry and Richard Arnold wouldn't give their famous interview until the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is likely due in part to the book's editor and head writer, Mike W. Barr, who is a veteran comics writer and first generation Star Trek fan, and this issue marks some of his earliest Trek comic work. This introduces a new sort of status quo for Star Trek comics: From here on out, as long as new Star Trek is being filmed, the comics will forever be playing catch-up and trying to slot themselves into the gaps between “canon” stories, with mixed levels of success.

“The Wormhole Connection” is not Barr's strongest work. The story is painfully forgettable: It picks up right after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with Kirk getting the Enterprise back from Starfleet command to help him move on with his life, which is kind of odd as he'd already been given it in the movie itself. Then there's some Klingons who show up and blow up a Federation starship unprovoked with an experimental weapon that has something to do with wormholes (hence the name) for some reasons and some rather nasty diegetic sexism from one of the relatives of the exploded ship to another, blaming her for its destruction. Kirk has some scenes where he's horrible to Saavik because she's not Spock and McCoy proceeds to chew him out for this, which seem a bit out of character for everyone involved, really.

Although the whole deal is mediocre at best, my biggest problem is how, even after all major shifts the last movie instated (or halfheartedly tried to instate as the case may be), the generic Star Trek formula still seems to be able to manage to reassert itself: Admiral Kirk really shouldn't be the central character anymore, especially when the story jettisons Carol and David Marcus off-panel on the second page. Even Star Trek Phase II recognised this and put Decker in the lead more than sporadically. This story really ought to be doing the same for Saavik. It's like there's some primal resistance to doing a story set in the Original Series timeframe that shakes up the beloved and established structure laid down in 1966, even in a series *specifically designed* to do just that. Such is the cultural weight the Original Series exerts over all of Star Trek.

But the biggest problem with “The Wormhole Connection” doesn't come from Barr or DC, it comes from its parent franchise. And it's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which somewhat regrettably premiered within weeks of this issue. With that, Paramount doesn't exactly shoot DC's new comic line in the foot as much as it does detonate a nuclear warhead inside its sneaker insole. DC doesn't even get a chance to fail at creating a new Star Trek with Saavik in the captain's chair before the studio itself slams the reset button harder and faster than Khan blew up his ship. The forces of the universe itself will conspire to prevent the Original Series crew from ever changing. And this really is a turning point in the history of Star Trek, because it's at this point it's abundantly clear that the Original Series story is forever going to remain a static thing. That doesn't mean there won't be new episodes written, the fans will see to that no matter what because the Original Series is something the people who are the most passionate about it will never, ever let go.

But from an intellectual and analytical standpoint, we really are officially done here. There's nothing more for us to gain and learn hanging around Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Because those characters and that setting can never transcend the boundaries and limitations Gene Roddenberry fashioned for them, if Star Trek ever wants to grow, it's going to have to leave them behind, and sooner rather than later. As for the first volume of DC's Star Trek comics...Well, while “The Wormhole Connection” isn't that hot, there are in fact things to recommend here: Barr continues to get better, as do the comics themselves, and in a time not to far from this one they'll soon prove themselves worthy to stand alone the “canon” filmed stuff as equals. And honestly, if you're looking for stories set in the universe Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan briefly hinted at offering you, this series is about as close as you're gonna get unless you write it yourself (though there is likely fanfiction of it somewhere if you look hard enough: I haven't, because I personally couldn't care less about this phase of Star Trek history, but you might).

But now, there's one last rite to perform before we can finally move on. Before the universe's proper Order can be restored and we can leave it behind. Let's go get Spock. It'll be a Valentine for the fans.


  1. Actually Josh, there were 17 issues or so of Marvel's 1979-81 spin off from The Motion Picture. It was crippled by being limited solely to the concepts that appeared in TMP, and from constantly changing creative teams and, alas, a sterility of approach that matches that of the film. Put it this way - I know I have a complete set somewhere in the attic, but I haven't seen it since 1983 when the far superior DC version came along.

    Which brings us to Mike W Barr. He's an odd cove, isn't he ? He seems to work best when he's got a strong editor or collaborator - his late 80s run on Detective Comic with Alan Davis was a thing of beauty, but when Davis leaves Barr produces The Night of the Reaper, which might be the most flat out insane Batman story ever told, and I've read the ones where he dresses up in a differentcouloured bat suit every night. Keep your eye on Mike Barr and you get Son of the Demon, look away and you get Looker. So here we get Bearclaw as an arrogant, petty minded asshole, which is pretty much how he remains, but the intriguing idea of a Klingon with a conscience, which is a positive step forward.

    I like this series but, as you say, every time it takes a couple of steps forward - particularly when Peter David takes over the writing - along comes a movie to kick the feet out from under it.

    1. I remember that movie adaptation: I even mention it in my post on "The Final Voyage", I don't know why I neglected to make that clear here...

      Barr certainly is interesting. It is true that most of the work of his I like the most (and I'm only familiar with his Star Trek stuff I have to say) does tend to be when he's working with somebody else. "The Legendary Crossover" is flat-out one of my favourite Trek stories ever, but this one doesn't do anything for me and while I enjoyed "The Final Voyage" and felt it filled a niche (I mean I think it's about as good as a story that's trying to bridge the gap between the Original Series and Phase II/The Motion Picture can possibly be and was perfectly timed) it's not something I'm going to revisit over and over again.

      I am definitely a fan of DC's Trek line overall though, both this one, its successor and it's flatly unbelievably amazing run on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some of my favourite expanded universe work of all. If nothing else, this particular line is sort of an early draft of where DC will eventually go.