The PopCult Bookshelf
Back in the glory days of the original Star Trek series, Science Fiction was still not quite a proven commodity in entertainment circles. Despite the success of TV programs like “Star Trek,” “Lost in Space,” “The Time Tunnel” and others, Sci-Fi was still seen as a risky “cult” genre, not quite ready for the mainstream.
Much of the pure science fiction elements had been purged from mainstream comic books of DC and Marvel, although there were plenty of sci-fi overtones in their superhero comics. There was, however, one holdout among the then-major comic book companies. Gold Key Comics was still a major player, and offered straight-up space opera with “Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space” and Superhero-tinged science fiction in “Magnus: Robot Fighter” and “Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.”
Gold Key also published way more comic books based on TV shows than other publishers of the day did, so it’s no shock that they wound up with the license to produce comic books based on “Star Trek.” In fact, they held that license, and produced original stories, well past the point that the TV show was cancelled. Gold Key continued to publish adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise up until 1979.
These stories aren’t considered canon by die-hard Trekkers, but they are still a lot of fun and display a level of craft that is largely absent from modern comics. In his introduction, comic book writer (and guest at last year’s Tri-Con in Huntington), Tony Isabella explains some of the quirks in these early comic book stories and the reasons behind them.
It’s unlikely that the writer, Dick Wood, was terribly familiar with the show when he got the assignment. Characters are not as well-deliniated as they were on the show, and he sometimes strays from established concepts, like The Prime Directive. However we do get the “Star Date,” Spock bringing up logic, disposable members of the landing party and other beloved Star Trek staples.
It’s also worth pointing out that each issue of the Gold Key series was “done-in-one,” a concept that was so much the norm that it didn’t have that name when these comics were published. Each 25-page story tells a complete adventure with a beginning, middle and an end. In modern comic books these stories would be spread over a six-to-ten issue “story arc” that would drag so much that, by the time they finished, you would have forgotten the first part of the story.
This volume collects the first six issues of Gold Key’s “Star Trek” comic book, and that means six complete stories. This is a good thing.
The first two issues of the book were drawn by Nevio Zeccara, who had a very workmanlike style, with strong layouts and well-executed likenesses of the actors in most places. Zeccara, who like his successor, Alberto Giolitti, was based in Italy, had never seen the show, and had to work from reference photos. His two issues are not fan-favorites, but his artwork serves the stories well.
Giolitti took over with the third issue, and brings a slightly slicker style to the book, with more dynamic layouts and better finished rendering. He remained the principle artist on Gold Key’s “Star Trek” for most of the next ten years.
As Isabella points out in his introduction, these are stories from before the rules for the Star Trek universe were fully established. In the first issue the Prime Directive is not mentioned once as the Enterprise crew wipes out an entire planet’s sentient civilization. We also get a story where the Enterprise flies through the atmosphere of a planet, with exhaust flames shooting out of the back. On top of that readers will have to overlook a few of Dick Wood’s trademark exclamations, like “Howling Comets!” and “Great Hannah!”
Despite that, these stories have a charm that is not simply nostalgic. They capture most of the spirit of Star Trek and tell solid, enjoyable stories. They hold up remarkably well.
This is not the first time the Gold Key Star Trek comics have been collected, but this time they are in hardback and the publisher, IDW is not likely to go belly-up anytime soon. It’ll be cool to see further volumes in this series in the future. I hope they manage to present the entire series in hardback books with slick paper and vibrant color.
This is not only indespensible for the Star Trek completist, but it’s also a handy, entertaining compilation for casual fans.