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Long before she canonically gained the name “Una” in Discovery and Strange New Worlds, John Byrne wrote and illustrated several adventures of Number One from “The Cage”. They were originally published in five self-contained comic issues back in 2009, just before JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek movie. Later that year, the five individual adventures were collected into an omnibus graphic novel edition.

Starting as a cadet, the future Number One is shown to have quite the adventurous and citation-winning career. Or, if you prefer, has proven to be a bloody jinx, as every ship she serves on is attacked, ripped in half, blown up, etc. As a cadet on the Enterprise’s shakedown cruise, she gets involved in a Klingon trap that results in heavy damage and an admiral making a suicide run in a shuttle. Next thing you know, she’s on a ship that gets blown in half and subsequently has to help her team survive in the remaining piece. Then there’s a trip to a mysterious Earth colony where all of the colonists have disappeared and reappeared from their protective dome. Throw in some engineered, savage soldiers, and a bit of weird end-of-the-universe time travel once she has returned to the Enterprise — now under the command of Robert April and First Officer Chris Pike — and you have an entertaining pastiche of TOS-style adventures and comics wonderment.

“Crew” collage (John Adams/PhoenixPhotography)

Byrne’s scripts hit just the right note of TOS while maintaining a strong lead character and verve of dialogue. Art-wise he does great, too, with excellent pencils and inks. He gives us great angles and framing, while always knowing just how far or close to keep the point-of-view while maintaining a good level of detail at every level (quite unlike the current Strange New Worlds line of comics).

There are some oddities with Byrne’s art. In every panel, the Klingons are all grinning like smarmy loons. Nearly every issue has a face drawn to look like a grinning Sulu – and in the “Shakedown” chapter, a very good likeness of DeForest Kelley – but these are apparently not meant to be Sulu or Bones, at least not in any text or dialogue reference. Perhaps these likenesses are easter eggs, coincidental, or resembling a reference photo that the artist used as inspiration. Whatever the case, the excellent art draws the reader into what feels like an exciting 23rd Century Starfleet vessel.

As for the familiar characters who definitely appear, it’s nice to see Doctor Boyce at the beginning and end, as well as Chris Pike, and the story does a good job of establishing his and Number One’s rapport and background. It also serves as a good meta-level take on why she’s just known as “Number One” – remember, this originally came out before she was named “Una”, and her job title and name became plays on each other. Pike comes across fairly unmemorably but not badly, and it’s nice that Spock gets a debut as well. It’s strange, though, despite having previously appeared in prose novels, to see a white Bob April – doubly so since we’re used to hearing him referred to as “Bob” in SNW.

The covers of the five “Crew” issues (IDW Publishing)

Byrne’s fine pencils and inks aren’t the only element to the art. There are three different colourists between the five stories in the anthology. Mario Boon gives us a rather watercolour feel in the first story, “Shakedown”, which is nostalgically reminiscent of 1970s comics. Tom Smith’s Scorpion Studios brings some CG shading to story two, “The Bottle”, but still maintains that lovely nostalgic ambience. “Ghosts”, the third story, sees Lovern Kindzierski bring a more 21st Century vibe with digital colouring that feels more natural and modern, before dialling the modernity back a little for stories four and five – “Shadow of the Past” and “The Ends of Eternity”. This all works very well.

As for Number One herself, I like the way Byrne manages to never name her without this becoming too obvious or convoluted. It just flows naturally in the handling of the plot. None of her story conflicts with what we know of her from “The Cage”, but some of it does clash in minor ways with Strange New Worlds, such as her being human. These clashes are tiny and almost unnoticeable (so far; who knows what SNW Season 2 might bring!), and she comes across as an interesting and strong female lead with a lot of originality to her — far more so than her 1960s TV counterpart did.

Rating: 4 out of 5

In other words, this is a well-written prequel to a prequel, with engaging and detailed art, and is a highlight of IDW’s Trek licence. But what else would you expect from one of comics’ greatest and most famous writer/artists?

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