Star Trek issue #400 in Review
To commemorate their 400th issue of Star Trek comics, IDW has released a diverse anthology of short stories. This collection varies tremendously in both storytelling and visual art styles. Eras of Trek from The Original Series to Discovery are revisited and expanded upon.
#1: “Captain’s Log”
It makes perfect sense to start the comic with an Original Series nod. Chris Eliopoulos (Desperate Times) and relative newcomer artist Luke Sparrow team up for the anthology’s first installment, a monologue from a wise captain’s perspective gained from being aboard the Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, D or E).
This story is a reminder that the principle of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a source of strength for the crew and a core value that has continued to echo through every iteration of the franchise. The narrator asks: What makes a good captain? The comic then demonstrates ways Captain Kirk led with strength (“Arena”) or compassion (“The Devil in the Dark”), asking if these alone make for greatness. Or is it encouraging that greatness in others, empowering them to better themselves? Or perhaps all the above?
Since Kirk is the captain, one would naturally assume that this is his personal log. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that it’s a newly minted Captain Sulu narrating. When Sulu says goodbye from the Excelsior’s bridge, I found it especially touching for Captain Kirk to proudly give him an old ceremonial nautical blessing — “Fair winds and following seas.” It’s wonderful to start the comic with a passing of the torch to new crews, new captains, and new fans.
#2: “Soldier On”
One of the biggest surprises in the anthology is this second short story, written by Marvel vet Declan Shalvey (Moon Knight, Thunderbolts, and Deadpool). It follows fan-favorite character Engineer Miles O’Brien and recounts events leading up to the Setlik Massacre (a story described in dialogue on Deep Space Nine). During his time on the Rutledge, Miles had encountered Cardassians only as an enemy. This experience created a fertile field for bigotry towards Cardassians, which presented challenges for O’Brien while stationed on DS9.
The art style by Seth Damoose (Floppy Cop, Savants, Tales of Mr. Rhee, Xenoholics, I HATE Gallant Girl, Brat-Halla) is a unique blend of modern and vintage, with exaggerated Ben-Day dots. The comic does a fantastic job of showing how O’Brien’s racism served to identify an enemy quickly, as he catches a spy and drags the “spoon-head” as a prize to his Captain Maxwell, who rewards his efforts with more responsibility. Miles’ detainment of the spy leads to a shocking alternate explanation for the Setlik Massacre. Trek is at its best when it’s honest about humanity’s enduring flaws, and proximity to power is among the most intoxicating temptations.
Mike Johnson has written tons of Trek comics. They often depict alternate realities, for example in Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, and expand the worlds of characters, such as in Star Trek: Discovery – The Light of Kahless, which fleshes out T’Kuvma’s backstory. Johnson has also written a companion to Picard, Star Trek: Picard – Countdown. With such an impressive catalogue of Trek experience, why are his talents used to make a one-page interlude that doesn’t go anywhere?
This story is meant to be a teaser for another comic, but I fail to see how watching Scotty wake up from a nap is supposed to entice the reader to further explore this world inspired by the Kelvin Timeline. Scotty is slightly annoyed, and that is it. Huh?!
#4: “A Matter of Choice”
A highlight of this collection is written by none other than Wil Wheaton. While Wheaton is hardly unfamiliar with comics – he’s voiced some DC cartoons, like Teen Titans and Batman: The Brave and the Bold – I was only able to find one other graphic novel that he had written – The Guild: Fawkes #6, released back in 2015.
In this moving story, a fifty-year-old Wesley Crusher reunites with his most consistent father figure, Admiral Picard, just before anointing another as a Traveler. While sealed in a bubble dimension, Wesley questions why he was trusted with the helm of the Enterprise at age sixteen. It’s a fair question, since his inexperience could have cost the lives of everyone on the Enterprise. Picard explains that what defines a captain is consulting with one’s staff, but ultimately, “There is only the courage and wisdom to make the choice without regret” – a solid, pithy Picard-ism.
Consulting with Picard before the weighty decision to convince Kore to become a Traveler lines up perfectly with the Crusher character. So much so that I wish this scene was included in the Picard Season 2 finale, rather than leaving his contribution to a tiny cameo.
Artist Joe Eisma gets a lot right about Picard’s château. But Picard’s face might be a different story! It makes sense to recount past adventures in an anniversary issue, though I appreciated that this vignette went beyond that.
#5: “The Starfleeter!”
This short peek into the world of Discovery’s Keyla Detmer as a child scratches an itch I didn’t know I had. This installment is written by the same person as “Meanwhile…”, so it’s a relief that someone with as much experience as Mike Johnson has a second time at bat. With giant expressive eyes and Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, Megan Levens’ art style suits this kid-driven fantasy world perfectly.
My purist Trekkie side might get bent out of shape about the many illogical elements. However, I was charmed by the notion of draining Discovery of every ounce of tragedy and instead making it about two kids being silly. It’s unlikely Johnson was making a meta-commentary on interstellar conflict boiling down to frivolous children competing with each other, but it still manages to be endearing to see L’Rell challenge Detmer to eat gagh.
#6: “A Perfect System”
After a necessary memorial for Nichelle Nichols (why on Earth is she towards the back?) comes this story. Yet another massive pivot in tone! Jackson Lanzing, a bestselling comic author who has written extensively for Marvel, DC, and Star Trek has taken the most cerebral approach by checking in with a now non-corporeal former Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell, who once served on the TOS Enterprise as a helmsman (established in The Original Series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”).
Gary is surprisingly without his companion Dr. Elizabeth Dehner. Maybe he is choosing career over his personal life since he’s busy manifesting entire solar systems, showing that his abilities have progressed significantly. Literally able to see the bigger picture, Gary offers perspective on Starfleet in one of my favorite lines in the comic: “An unbroken crusade of openness, curiosity, honesty and sacrifice.” His distant and cold demeanor is similar to that of Dr. Manhattan, making me wonder if Captain Atom had any hand in Gary Mitchell’s characterization in TOS.
This astonishing prequel to Star Trek: 2022 recontextualizes much about the first issue in that series. Dr. Dehner’s absence in this prequel is presumably left to upcoming issues of that series to explain, and I wonder if Mitchell will end up becoming a Bajoran prophet.
This story ends with a surprising and unsettling cliffhanger that entices me to eagerly await what will come next. Ramon Rosanas – an artist also responsible for Ant–Man, Year Zero, and Star Wars – does a wonderful job of capturing the satisfied Gary as he creates planets and all the creatures that crawl on them. “A Perfect System” provides a suitable end to this comic and a thrilling start to another.
In this outstanding compilation, there’s only one story that seems unnecessary – not bad for such a varied body of work. It would have been wonderful to see an Uhura-inspired story rather than leave her presence to a single page towards the back. The art that ends the comic is clearly created by Star Trek lovers. A highlight is Chris Fegnolio’s Lower Decks image, which is reminiscent of an eventful Renaissance painting; I find something new every time I look at it. This comic does Star Trek proud while having fun in the worlds it’s capable of creating.