Warp Factor Trek

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This one-shot comic, released between Star Trek: Discovery’s first two seasons, follows Paul Stamets and sets up his introduction in “Context Is for Kings”, Discovery’s third episode. After The Light of Kahless, it’s the second Discovery comic story and the second to be a prequel. It’s also the first of two Discovery annuals.

The comic sets up the mycelial network and Discovery‘s spore drive, controversial subjects among the Star Trek fanbase. It’s fantastic to see Stamets as chronologically early as this and his budding relationships with Doctors Straal (who briefly appears in “Context Is for Kings”) and Culber. The comic is noteworthy in showing the relationship between Stamets and Culber smoothly develop from its initial phases, culminating in a kiss (presumably their first one). But what leads to this?

Log Entry

The USS Somerville in an unmapped asteroid belt

In an asteroid belt, the USS Somerville is collecting specimens when the rocks suddenly begin spinning. Due to asteroid collision, a three-man away team rematerialises dead. Collected specimens survive transport; the ship hastily departs.

Months later on Deneva, Doctor Paul Stamets inspects fungi in a greenhouse, talking to the various specimens. A Prototaxites stellaviotori specimen has arrived. Stamets declines a fan’s letter and prefers to analyse the new specimen rather than accept a Kasseelian opera invitation from colleague Doctor Straal. Straal leaves a terraforming project that his wife, Amelia, wants him to rejoin. Stamets passionately studies the specimen, discovering it creates the mycelial network’s quantum pathways.

Straal and Stamets hatch plans to present their findings

On Alpha Centauri two years later, Stamets and Straal present their findings to the Federation Research Council, who react sceptically. In a bar, Stamets frustratedly overhears Hugh Culber humming Kasseelian opera, sparking their first encounter, immediately after which Stamets admits he likes Culber. Andorian Doctor Zev Rebholz approaches Straal, saying Starfleet is interested in their work and offers unlimited resources. Straal shares a drink with his wife, who laments the reaction to their presentation and urges him to return to the terraforming project, though he highlights Starfleet’s enthusiasm. Stamets, about to embark for Deneva, is caught humming Kasseelian opera by Culber, who Stamets realises is in Starfleet and agrees to provide his contact details, ostensibly to continue their “arguing.”

On Deneva, Stamets strongly opposes Straal’s suggestion of working for Starfleet. Alone with the Prototaxites stellaviotori, Stamets speculates that Starfleet would likely attempt to weaponise it. He ingests some of the fungus, leading to a powerful hallucinogenic experience, and is later revived by Straal. Culber contacts Stamets to say he’ll be fine and, at Stamets’ request, they continue chatting.

A test subject is prepared for beaming

Three months later, Stamets and Straal successfully use the mycelial network to beam a toad-like alien from Deneva Station to Beta Darius. Stamets playfully questions if it’s the same alien, then celebrates the breakthrough with Straal.

Six months later, Stamets and Straal debate their readiness to conduct Human testing. Stamets accuses Straal of wanting to return to Amelia but Straal argues that he’s simply being cautious due to the high sensitivity of their work. In his quarters, Stamets disdainfully shares one of the messages from his fan, who is at Starfleet Academy, with Culber via viewscreen but Culber expresses compassion for her.

Whereas Stamets derides his fan, Culber speaks in her defense

Stamets is summoned to an emergency in Deneva Station’s primary lab, where an assistant has died. He tried to test the network himself, concerned that Stamets and Straal would close the lab. Both of them wishing they were together, Culber reckons that Stamets needs time to grieve the death, but Stamets is eager to use data from the incident.

A week later, Stamets plans to test mycelial transport on himself. Straal finds out, objects but eventually assists, leading to another successful test.

Straal and Stamets addressing the Federation Research Council

On Alpha Centauri nine months later, Stamets and Straal again present their findings to the Federation Research Council, receiving congratulations. They encounter Zev Rebholz, an Andorian who mentions that Starfleet would like to use their research not for weapons but for starship propulsion. Straal has split up with Amelia and, suggesting he and Stamets serve on separate ships, decides to accept Starfleet’s offer.

Three days later, Stamets prepares the Prototaxites stellaviotori for transfer to their respective ship assignments. He challenges Straal to a spore drive development contest.

Straal and Stamets bid each other farewell

Stamets boards the USS Discovery and meets Captain Lorca. Enlisted as a lieutenant, he advocates for his fan’s recruitment too. In his quarters, he discovers Culber, who requested a transfer to be Discovery’s chief medical officer. They share a kiss. A month later, Stamets encounters Cadet Sylvia Tilly, his fan, and smiles as he orders her to work.

Status Report

The initial scene is captioned “before,” which is kind of funny, given that the comic is a prequel — the first scene is literally the before of the before! The scene is fairly exciting and it’s always great to see another Discovery-like 23rd-century starship in action. However, the mystery that’s set up in these first few pages isn’t really paid off. Later in the comic, the Prototaxites stellaviotori is described as growing only on asteroids… but that’s as far as any sort of connection goes and it’s unclear what makes the asteroid belt react oddly.

Stamets in his greenhouse on Deneva, speaking to his fungi

Doctor Stamets talking to his fungi feels very true to character. We also get good explanation for why, initially, he’s particularly irritable — it’s because he resents working for Starfleet. Considering that Stamets later helps Culber return from death via the mycelial network, it’s interesting that, here, Culber helps Stamets emotionally overcome a death caused by experimentation with the network. Also, seeing that Stamets vouches for Tilly and that that’s how they come to work together is heartwarming.

Planets like Deneva and Alpha Centauri tick the continuity checkboxes, as do references to scientists like Hawking and Emory Erickson. Meanwhile, it’s remarkable that a space station in orbit of Alpha Centauri looks identical to one in Earth orbit in the Kelvin Timeline films.

The oddly familiar-looking space station
Rating: 4/5

Overall, this is one of the better Discovery comics. If it has a downside, it’s that the dialogue could use slightly more bold and is a bit rich in mycelial-related technobabble, but these are merely nitpicks and the technical terms aren’t so profuse as to become boring. Good work by all involved.

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