Here’s a twofer for you, an installment of It Came from the 1990s and a Star Trek review.
In my last blog post I looked at Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was originally released back in December 1979. So today I’m going to discuss a comic book series which serves as a sort of follow-up to that movie. Star Trek: Untold Voyages was a five-issue miniseries published by Marvel Comics in 1998. Untold Voyages was written by Glenn Greenberg, penciled by Mike Collins, inked by Keith Williams, colored by Matt Webb, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos and edited by Tim Tuohy.
Marvel had previously held the license to publish Star Trek comic books immediately following the release of The Motion Picture. Their Star Trek comic book ran for 18 issues between 1980 and 1982 and was unfortunately not especially well-received. (Apparently Marvel could only use elements that appeared in The Motion Picture, and anything from the actual television series was off-limits.) The license was soon acquired by DC Comics, who between 1984 and 1996 published a number of highly regarded Star Trek comics.
Marvel ended up picking up the license for a second time in 1996. Although they once again ended up holding it for only three years, during this brief period they released several Star Trek books of a high quality. A major aspect of this appears to have been that the terms of the license were much more flexible than they had been in the early 1980s, providing the writers with greater creative freedom.
Untold Voyages is set in the gap between The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, during a new five year mission for Captain James T. Kirk and crew of the Starship Enterprise. Each issue is set during one of the five years of that mission. As the series progresses we gradually see the transition of the Star Trek universe from the tone of the first movie to that of the second. As critic Darren Mooney observes on the m0vie blog, Greenberg’s stories serve to bridge Gene Roddenberry and Nicholas Meyer’s very different visions of the Star Trek universe.
Greenberg is a longtime Star Trek fan, and if anyone was suited to write a Star Trek series set in the aftermath of the first movie it was him. As he recently stated on Facebook concerning The Motion Picture:
“This was not my first exposure to Star Trek, but it IS what sparked my great interest in the series.”
I asked Greenberg how the Untold Voyages comic book series came about, and he explained its origins:
“Was hanging out in the office of my fellow Marvel editor, Tim Tuohy, who was editing some of the Star Trek titles. I mentioned that he should consider doing something in the post-TMP era, and we jokingly called it The Grey Pajamas Saga. But ideas started pouring out of both of us, in terms of what could be done with such a project, and before I knew it, Tim was telling me to go home and write up a pitch for him. Which I did.”
Reading Untold Voyages, Greenberg’s fondness for both this particular period, and for Star Trek as a whole, is readily apparent. I really feel that he successfully captures both Roddenberry’s optimistic, utopian awe that permeated the original television series and The Motion Picture and the more grounded, skeptical view of the future that Nicholas Meyer introduced to it with The Wrath of Khan. Greenberg successfully balances these two approaches in much the same way that later episodes of The Next Generation and much of the run of Deep Space Nine also did, resulting in some intelligent, thought-provoking stories.
I don’t want to get into too many specifics about Untold Voyages because I’d rather encourage Star Trek fans to seek it out for themselves. The issues can be found on eBay at affordable prices. The miniseries was also reprinted in Volume 120 of the massive Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection published by Eaglemoss Collections several years ago.
I will say that probably my favorite issue was the second one. The title “Worlds Collide” has two very distinct meanings in Greenberg’s story. In the “A plot” an alien planet is threatened with destruction as an asteroid hurtles towards it, leading Kirk and Dr. McCoy into a very heated argument over the Federation’s Prime Directive, and whether they should or should not interfere and attempt to save the world’s inhabitants.
In the “B plot” Spock is serving as a mentor to the young, troubled Saavik. Greenberg utilizes the half-Romulan backstory for Saavik that was filmed for The Wrath of Khan but ultimately never used but which was later explored in several prose novels and the DC Comics series. He effectively parallels Spock and Saavik, each of them only half-Vulcan, each in their turn struggling to find their place, and their identity, in the rigidly logical Vulcan society.
Another stand-out issue is the fourth one. “Silent Cries” sees Lieutenant Commander Hikaru Sulu briefly assume command of the Enterprise. Greenberg wrote this story to show the event that helped place Sulu on the path to eventually becoming captain of the Excelsior several years later.
I’ve often lamented that, due to the realities of television writing & production during the 1960s, outside of Kirk, Spock and McCoy the Enterprise crew were undeveloped. Therefore, it’s good to get a story like this that spotlights one of those other characters. That’s always been a strength of the tie-in media of comic books and novels, it’s enabled writers to flesh out Sulu, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov and the rest of the ship’s crew.
“Silent Cries” also has one of those great moral quandaries that Star Trek is so wonderful at addressing. I’ve always appreciated the series for how it can challenge our assumptions and ask us to reconsider our views.
The artwork on Untold Voyages is very well done. Mike Collins & Keith Williams do a superb job rendering the characters, the technology, and the different alien worlds. I’ve observed before that drawing likenesses in licensed comic books can be incredibly tricky. If the artist is too faithful to the actors there is a danger of the characters not seeming real, instead looking like they were traced from a photograph. It can be more important to capture the personality & body language of the characters than the actual appearances of the actors who portray them. Collins & Williams do an admirable job rendering the rest of the Enterprise crew.
Collins also has a long association with Doctor Who Magazine as one of the artists on its ongoing comic book feature, so he clearly has a great affinity for drawing actors’ likenesses as well as sci-fi elements. I’ve always liked Collins’ work, and I think he’s somewhat underrated, especially compared to a number of his contemporaries who also made their debuts in the British comic book industry during the mid-1980s.
Collins’ layouts & storytelling on Untold Voyages are very strong & dramatic. Williams is a superb inker, and he does a great job on the finishes here.
Going back to “Worlds Collide” I appreciated that Greenberg & Collins created a totally non-humanoid alien species. It’s long been a running joke that in Star Trek most aliens look like human beings with bumpy foreheads or funny ears. Obviously the primary reason for that is the constraints of time, money & technology in creating truly alien lifeforms on live television. But none of that applies to comic books, where the only limitations are the talent & imagination of the artist.
Oh, yes, I cannot discuss Untold Voyages without mentioning Matt Webb’s vibrant colors. The mid to late 1990s was often a crapshoot when it came to comic book coloring as creators struggled to adapt to the brand-new computer coloring technology that was being utilized. There was a lot of gaudy coloring during this period. But Webb did superb work on this miniseries. The coloring is striking without being overwhelming. I love what he does with the warp speed effect.
As I’ve said before, one of the reasons why I like doing these It Came from the 1990s blog posts is that they allow me to spotlight some of the great comic books that came out during a decade that often gets a bad reputation. There are a great many underrated gems from the 1990s, and Star Trek: Untold Voyages is one of them. If you’re a Trekkie it’s definitely worth seeking these out.