Strange New Worlds’ “The Illyrian Enigma” Issue #4 in Review
The fourth issue of IDW’s first series of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds comics concludes the storyline, which is designed to fit nicely between the cliffhanger ending of Season 1 and the upcoming Season 2 premiere. The story in the final issue is both 100% predictable — essentially already given to us — and only loosely connected to trying to help the case of First Officer Una Chin-Riley. That’s despite the fact that this comics series is ostensibly focused on the fallout of the show’s first season cliffhanger involving the removal — for the moment — of Una from the Enterprise, the nature of her species (the Illyrians), and their gene modifications which violate Starfleet laws.
This issue starts in the Enterprise‘s sickbay, with Nurse Chapel and Doctor M’Benga reviving Spock. He needs to recover after (in the previous issues) the Illyrians abducted him, made genetic modifications to his body, and transported him to the inhospitable surface of their homeworld.
The Illyrian leader, Da-Kil, meanwhile demands that Spock and a crystal he found down on the planet be turned over to him, as they’re Illyrian property. Pike responds by pointing out that they’re actually Vulcan property, and transporter-abducts Da-Kil to the Enterprise. There, Pike — rather than threatening him, exacting justice, or even just telling him that he’ll be kept out of the loop — invites Da-Kil to accompany the Enterprise crew to Vulcan as a guest, where Spock is convinced they will find the answers they seek in order to free Una. The group plan to learn more about the work and discoveries of Skalan, a scientist who visited Illyria and whose memories of that trip were experienced by Spock in the previous issue.
And then things go sideways for the comic; oh, not for the characters, not from some new threat or twist. Things go sideways for the storytelling and the readership. Pike, Spock and Da-Kil go to a Vulcan hick town, where they encounter a most un-Vulcan-like old woman.
The woman happens to have a bit of junk lying around from her family history. It plays a message from Skalan. He explains that he was a member of an ancient Vulcan expedition that visited Illyria to help the planet overcome an ecological catastrophe. In their attempt to avoid the disaster, the Illyrians had their genes modified by the Vulcans, accidentally producing mutilating results.
It was only later that Vulcans devised their cultural non-interference directive. Which, to be fair, is something they undoubtedly had at some point but which we pretty much got told last issue anyway, rendering this mere repetition of sorts… or we can be generous and think of it as expansion. Rather than focusing on the larger scale societal changes of the Vulcans, this issue does focus more on Skalan’s personal realization that the Vulcan genetic experiments were wrong and on how they reveal the Illyrians to be survivors rather than “some gene-twisted threat like the Augments of Earth,” as Captain Pike says.
Anyway, Pike wants to make the truth known, figuring it’ll help Una’s case with Starfleet, but Da-Kil insists it remain secret because the knowledge will potentially trash Illyrian society. Can we say “Prime Directive debate?”
And that implies an upcoming set of difficulties to be worked through in the story — except we’re already at the page count and it’s the last episode of this arc. So, everybody goes away miffed, and Pike reports back to Admiral April that they’re resuming their current supply assignment. The end.
The abrupt end of this plot is a shame, because there’s a lot that could be covered regarding Illyrian backstory, and turns that could have been taken into mysterious and intriguing territory. But in the end, it just kind of fizzles out with no indication of whether any of it might be referenced in Season 2, or indeed what the point of such a padded and inconsequential story really was.
It also leaves a question mark over how this ended up so bland despite the awesome talent involved. Kristen Beyer and Mike Johnson are great writers in everything else, but this is a rare exception — everybody has an off-day perhaps, or maybe changes from higher executives meant necessary changes that caused it to lose focus.
As for the illustrations by Megan Levens and the colours by Charlie Kirchoff, the art is filled with great likenesses and colouration. However, like in the previous issues, it’s somehow just stiffly posed and lacking in engaging detail. In this issue, it’s also strange — an interesting take on things — that the Vulcan hick town’s main building is less like the previous Vulcan-style architecture we’ve seen in Enterprise or the movies, and has a sort of adobe Viking longhouse look to it.
Pretty much everything else that could be said about this issue — or the story as a whole — has already been said in my reviews of the prior issues. Overall, it has nice touches here and there, and reasonable dialogue, but both the individual issues and the overall story are over-padded, and in the end they just skip over the most interesting hooks and twists. Those decisions are as bizarre as the sudden appearance of the dotty old Vulcan granny.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.