Copyright 2019 by Michael W. Rickard II
Presenting the rare newspaper strip from the late 1970s and early 1980s that Star Trek fans have eagerly awaited. Volume 1 includes the first ten story arcs from the strip's debut on December 2, 1979 through October 25, 1981.
Star Trek comic books have been published—and collected—almost continually since 1967. Astoundingly, the long-running newspaper comic strip has been largely overlooked by even the most devout fans. In 1979 Paramount commissioned the comic strip to pick up where the first film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, left off and relate the adventures of the next five-year mission. The series, although it continued until 1983, had very limited distribution and soon faded into obscurity. What’s more, the strip has eluded comprehensive reprinting efforts…until now. Thanks to thorough research by a handful of dedicated Star Trek collectors, the strips have been rescued from yesterday’s fading newsprint and restored for this first of a two-volume set that collects the entire run of the rare newspaper comics.
Star Trek is one of the entertainment industry’s most amazing stories, a cancelled television show that launched an entire television and film franchise that continues to this day. Star Trek was marketed into other mediums as well such as the 1970’s animated series and as we’re about to see, newspaper comic strips. In 2012, IDW Press released Star Trek: The Newspaper Strip Volume 1 which offers fans a look at an overlooked production. Like any reprint, the question becomes, was it worth reprinting? The answer is a resounding yes as the comic strips are entertaining and fairly consistent with the Star Trek mythos, quite the achievement considering it debuted at a time when the Star Trek universe was still being defined.
IDW Press deserves credit for reprinting a number of classic newspaper comic strips, some well-known and others previously forgotten. In this case, the reprint provides a look at a series that ran for several years, but that was overshadowed by Star Wars (which also had a newspaper strip at the time) and hindered by newspapers reluctant to run more than one science-fiction strip.
As any Trekker knows, 1979 saw the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a film that brought back the beloved TV show’s characters in a big-budget special effects-heavy project. While the film was uneven, it helped launch the Trek film franchise and subsequent TV spin-offs such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. According to the book’s forward, Paramount wanted to launch a newspaper strip and auditioned several people including Neal Adams and Al Williamson (who would later illustrate the Star Wars comic strip among his other works). Writer/artist Thomas Warkentin would land the gig, writing and illustrating the strip.
Star Trek: The Newspaper Strip Volume 1 is 300 pages and covers the strip’s first ten storylines as well as Warkentin’s audition strip (which features the classic Trek characters in their uniforms from the Original Series). The first storyline is set before the 1979 film so readers get to see Lt. Ilia before her unfortunate fate in The Motion Picture as well a number of Easter eggs that Trekkers will enjoy.
The stories are solid Star Trek stories with occasional continuity lapses (such as the Enterprise going to warp 11), but anyone who’s watched Trek or enjoyed any of its various incarnations in novels or comics knows that continuity errors happen despite the best efforts. It’s happened in the TV series and films so it shouldn’t be a surprise it pops up occasionally in these comic strips. Nevertheless, these stories remain true to Star Trek’s core elements—the peaceful exploration of space and a commitment to exploring new worlds and new civilizations, all the while leaving things better than you found them. With enemies like the war-like Klingons nearby, conflict is bound to happen, but the beauty of Trek is watching people handle things by taking the higher ground, even if it’s not always the easy way to handle problems.
There are a number of good stories here including one involving Dr. McCoy’s ex-wife and a revenge-crazed former colleague of his, clashes with the Klingons, a run-in with cosmic con-artist Harry Mudd, and other interesting storylines. Unlike some comic strips, these storylines move at a fast pace and incorporate the character interaction and camaraderie that made classic Trek so popular with fans. There is a trade-off here as the strips explore the characters, but there’s only so much that can be done without the strips moving at a glacial pace. Nonetheless, fans of Trek’s secondary characters get a chance to see characters such as Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov function as more than background characters. Chekov’s role as Enterprise security chief is explored and he plays an important role in several storylines. The Star Trek comic strip also introduces new characters such as a Native American crew member and a number of new alien species.
These strips incorporate the designs from Star Trek: The Motion Picture which includes the controversial unisex uniforms (or “pajama” outfits as described by some fans) fans either love or hate. You’ll also see the Enterprise security crew in the body armor they wore in The Motion Picture as well as the wrist communicators and belt monitors that measure an individual’s life signs. These come into play in the stories which shows the research involved in producing the comic.
One of the most interesting sidebars about this book is that it includes reproductions of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture Happy Meal boxes. I was unaware of the product tie-in until recently when William Shatner tweeted about it recently. Like most aspects of The Motion Picture, it’s more a curiosity than any interest in tracking them down and acquiring them. The newspaper strips on the other hand, are a lot of fun and show promise as to how the Star Trek film franchise might have gone if Paramount had kept them in their pajama-like uniforms. As much as I enjoyed these strips, I’m glad Paramount went in a different direction with Trek starting with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek: The Newspaper Strip Volume 1 features good reproductions of the original strips, good stories and art, and is more than a curiosity item; it's an enjoyable read for comic strip fans and Original Trek fans.