Star Trek, Issue #3 in Review
There is an old TV narrative trope where an unusually large amount of airtime is suddenly spent on a minor character and signals an upcoming death knell for said character. Star Trek: Discovery infamously did this in the episode “Project Daedalus”, where the audience finally got to know cyborg crew member Airiam, so that her betrayal against the crew and swift execution were of emotional consequence. This type of foreshadowing is so prevalent that it’s bound to create trust issues, leaving the audience asking if each minor character who suddenly becomes endearing will end up getting the chop. It’s a factor that colored my reading as I delved into the third issue of IDW Publishing’s currently ongoing series of untitled Star Trek comics. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, this issue tells a Q story.
When the comic begins, we follow Vulcan T’Lir’s bizarre morning ablutions, which include getting a face full of replicated plant before taking a sonic shower with the safety off (and what does that even mean?). One gets the impression that this tortured soul is both sullen and self-destructive. So, like Spock and Tuvok, we are presented with another conflicted Vulcan wrestling with the emotions they are desperate to repress.
This sequence is followed by a character dossier on T’Lir, which serves as an exposition dump to eliminate the necessity of developing the character. The dossier is heavily clichéd, establishing T’Lir as having been a child prodigy involved in a now-classified disciplinary incident at a starbase. As I became uncomfortably aware of this background character’s alienation, I began to suspect that they would be offed by the end of this issue.
What follows is a perplexing but short interrogation of Captain Sisko by Dr. Beverly Crusher. When Crusher pressures Sisko to describe in detail what the Celestial Temple was like, it quickly escalates to questioning his very humanity and assessing his competency. Why did this conversation about Captain Sisko being of sound mind not take place before the Theseus disembarked on its mission? The approach taken here makes Dr. Crusher look like she’s about a week late to hand in her homework.
I did enjoy the next scene, which shows Jake and T’Lir discussing the simple joy of gumbo and Jake comparing T’Lir to Spock. However, when would Jake get a chance to meet Spock? It’s also unclear exactly how this conversation, in which T’Lir theorizes about why Jake makes gumbo, brought Spock to mind.
Q’s arrival is preceded by a chaotic parade of creatures and events. With the pressure of an intruder lurking, Captain Sisko is given a single page to provide the audience with some vague detail of the Celestial Temple, using his noncorporeal powers to determine that the culprit responsible for the extremely odd environmental changes is none other than Q. A dossier here serves not only to introduce Q but also to break up the pacing of the tense reunion between him and Sisko.
Sisko furiously punches Q, complaining about having to teach him a particular lesson for a second time. The punch, as well as Sisko’s line, are both references to the Deep Space Nine episode “Q-Less”, calling back to the moment Sisko hit Q when he became too much of a problem. This comic series has an ongoing preference for brevity which works to its advantage here, reacquainting the audience with the pair’s contentious relationship in a single panel. Even if the reader is unfamiliar with the show, Captain Sisko is concisely shown to not be a fan of Q.
Once again, the stakes are raised to the level of existential crisis. It’s frustrating that this happens yet again, even though it’s just the Theseus’ fate that hangs in the balance because of Q (rather than the overall A plot, where everything in existence relies on Sisko’s mission).
All of this is a catalyst for T’Lir to emerge as a hero. Their crusade begins with a flat declaration of geniushood to Jake Sisko before insisting on being his escort. My favorite part of this is the implication that the Q-created scenario coincidentally puts Jake and T’Lir in a series of date-like situations, even waltzing in one panel. As they shimmy through the Jefferies tubes from this or that threat, their conversation remains humorously casual. But as soon as the chance to sacrifice arises as a way to save the ship, T’Lir is joyfully ready to rip their own guts out, citing Spock’s name and line from The Wrath of Khan (putting “the needs of the few above the needs of the many”). Neither Spock’s name nor his quote needed to be cited. We get it.
Since this is a Q issue, what’s done can instantly be undone. Having chaos incarnate aboard offers that kind of perk. With his parting words, Q instructs Sisko to search for “the god city of T’kon.”
Allowing T’Lir to live — a subversion of the aforementioned trope — seems more convenient than impactful. He is, however, permanently altered by the events of the story, ultimately finding it at least slightly more difficult to piece together his thoughts and words.
On a positive note, this third installment of the comic series finally slows the pace of the story. Or at least contains it to the ship. Installment #3 would be classified as a bottle episode if done in a live-action series. It’s a reprieve from the enormous A plot that has been violently thrusting the characters through an elaborate variety of massive set pieces. The diversion is welcome, especially since no-one in Star Trek is better qualified than Q to reach into someone’s mind and provide an entertaining distraction. He’s a great character for a comic book, as almost no adjustments need to be made. His superior attitude, his swagger, and his habit of creating chaos wherever he goes — forcing the main characters to reflect and grow — make him easily transferable from one storytelling medium to another.
But the insights that both confinement to the ship and Q’s prodding elicit remain shallow and rushed. While this issue takes slightly more time with the characters — as bottle episodes generally do — shifts in the story are still drastic and sudden. As a result, less-than-entertaining bits are fortunately short-lived. As James A. Cruikshank wrote in Field and Stream, “In Chicago, they have a saying: ‘If you do not like our weather, wait a minute.’”
Why Q did not focus his test on Captain Sisko is the biggest unsolved mystery of the issue. Similar to “Hide and Q” — where Q challenged Riker in ways that would make more sense for Picard — Q should have kept the parameters of the test focused on what would make Sisko, not T’Lir, rise to the occasion. Rather than put the ship in danger, Q would have free reign to give Sisko the opportunity to both open up about his time with the Prophets and finally let us all in on his motivations. After being disconnected from existence for years, Sisko deserves more time to debrief about his experience. Instead, the focus is frustratingly taken off him to spotlight someone else who’s been in the background. T’Lir acts as a barrier to prevent us getting any closer to understanding what motivates Sisko to make this mission his sole responsibility.
This issue’s cover art, by Ramon Rosanas, makes it obvious that Q will feature into the story. It looks like a naked marketing ploy to slap Q’s face on the front! I’d definitely prefer Stefano Simeone’s retail incentive cover with Sisko appearing multiple times, in various poses, as if viewed through shattered glass.
When it comes to operatically huge events, I am a fan of the style of interior art, which is also by Ramon Rosanas. This artist does well when it comes to illustrating large dramatic set pieces. However, when it comes to face-to-face conversations, the characters don’t bear much resemblance to their TV counterparts. Close-ups of facial expressions are strangely blank. This series of comics, so far, has that as a theme — the connective tissue of detail that would otherwise convey meaning is consistently missing.