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IDW has recently begun a new Strange New Worlds comics series, written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott, with interior art by Angel Hernández. Despite being released after Season 2 of the TV show, it doesn’t directly continue the story from the cliffhanger at the end of the second season finale. Starting with issue #1, let’s see how it stacks up against the first Strange New Worlds comics run, the intriguing but ultimately disappointing The Illyrian Enigma

Log Entry

On Stardate 2856.4, the Enterprise is exploring space in the constellation of Scorpius (or as Pike refers to it, “Scorpio”). This constellation holds personal significance for Captain Pike, as he says it inspired him as a youth. However, it’s giving the ship a rough ride, with gravitational fissures all over the place.

Ortegas and Jenna Mitchell at the helm

While Ortegas and navigator Jenna Mitchell struggle to keep the ship in one piece, Uhura picks up a distress signal from a ship that looks like a fish. Spock and La’an beam across and rescue the startled pilot, Aisla, an amphibian humanoid who says the warp core on her ship, the Kestrel, is inoperative.

In sickbay aboard the Enterprise, Aisla identifies her species as Klessian and mentions that her homeworld is very far from where they are. She also asks if all their kind have such attractive little eyes as them and explains that she’s in debt to Zephyx, a local crime lord ruling the planet Celius Prime. Since Aisla is desperate to attend an imminent race that he’s organising, the Enterprise subsequently heads there.

The Enterprise arrives at Celius Prime

It turns out that the contest being hosted by the superpowerful Zephyx is a starship race and he is impressed with the Enterprise’s design. Without permission, he beams Aisla and a team from the Enterprise onto Celius Prime, where it’s revealed that, physically, he’s basically a head in a jar. He’s already aware of the Federation and doesn’t care about it. Since Pike wants to learn how to get out of this hazardous region of space, the Enterprise is forcibly included in the race — the titular “Scorpius Run” — with Zephyx commanding that Aisla will join them. As Zephyx explains, he holds the competition regularly and only one ship can emerge as the victor. The losers forfeit their vessels and crews.

A crowded gala/party for all the competitors has already begun, into which Zephyx abruptly beams the newcomers. Whereas Una is frustrated by the unconsented transports and La’an is eager to leave, Aisla is excited to be there because she’s never attended the gala before. She tells Pike that the racecourse runs through the changing elements of the sector. Like Zephyx, some of the aliens are already familiar with the Federation.

At the gala, the aliens receive instructions from a projection of Zephyx

Zephyx announces a new rule whereby, to liven things up, several of the crew members — including Spock and Una — are placed aboard other participating ships to be part of their crews. Beamed back to the Enterprise along with La’an and Aisla, Pike demands the return of Spock and Una. Zephyx says it’s too late for that and starts the countdown. With Pike determined to win the competition, the race is then begun…

Status Report

The fact this issue doesn’t follow up on the cliffhanger from the Season 2 finale is a relief, because trying to follow on from the Season 1 cliffhanger really doomed The Illyrian Enigma. Instead, what we have here is a standalone story, perhaps set during Season 2. The stardates in the Strange New Worlds TV series are random, though, so it’s not entirely clear when this tale is set. The only other clue we get about its timing in continuity is that Spock says, “The perils of the last few weeks have taken a toll on this ship’s morale and effectiveness.

Spock recalling the past few weeks

The concept of a starship race is hardly new — even within Star Trek itself, it has been done multiple times, from the old Pocket Books novel The Great Starship Race to the Voyager episode “Drive”. That said, racing has been around for millennia and is a popular genre of both sport and fiction, so there’s always room for a new take on the idea, with a different set of characters involved.

Issue #1 here doesn’t actually feature any race, despite the build-up and anticipation surrounding the event. Instead, it serves as a setup to the storyline, with a focus on building character and audience engagement up to the commencement of the Scorpius Run.

The Enterprise preparing to engage when the race gets underway

Writing-wise, Johnson and Parrott give us a straightforward progression from being stuck in bad space weather, to a rescue, to the beginning of the race. It’s simple, but not patronising, even when being expository — and it is very much an expository issue, even though the characterisation of the regulars gives it much more the feel of an episode. The weird part of it is that all of the regulars are given an identifying caption when first introduced, though so far there’s no-one identified that the audience won’t recognise, both in terms of having a part in the story and in the artwork, which is great with the likenesses throughout.

In more general art terms, there’s a very 1970s sci-fi comics ethos to the starships and the generic aliens. It’s evident that Hernandez pays attention to detail, even including some easter eggs — like a group of Klingons at the launch gala — and it’s nice to spot these elements. Of the various covers released for this first issue, the retailer incentive cover by Mike Cho is especially good, simply because it has the feel of a movie poster.

Mike Cho’s retail incentive cover for this issue
Rating: 3/5

Overall, this is a fun intro to a new story arc that promises intrigue and excitement (however, so did the beginning of The Illyrian Enigma, which ultimately failed to live up to its potential). Between fitting dialogue, good likenesses and a nostalgic style that all fits well with the TV show, it’s a worthy opener.

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