The second and final collection of Star Trek newspaper strips in IDW’s Library of American Comics project makes much of the material’s apparent anticipation of the Borg. “Seven years before [their] first appearance,” the dust jacket text breathlessly tells us, “the seeds are sown when Kirk and the Klingons learn to beware the Omnimind!!!” (Yes, some copywriter saw it fit to saddle that sentence with three exclamation points.) While the four month-long arc that opens Volume Two bears some passing resemblance to a Borg story, it’s far from Volume Two’s sole selling point. Like its predecessor, this volume offers much to interest and entertain diehard TOS fans.
Enter the Omnimind
Any presumed prescience about the Borg aside, the “Omnimind” epic (which ran from late October 1981 to late February 1982) feels like a Star Trek movie that never got made, but should have. Writer Sharman DiVono spins an ambitious tale that blends exploration of the unknown, explosive space battles, and pure science fiction concepts in fine form. It manages to encompass such tried-and-true Trek tropes as conflict with the Klingons and an alien love interest for Kirk. It even makes a valiant attempt to introduce a major new recurring character to the Enterprise family, security officer Lieutenant Marsha Latham. She only appears again (and far less prominently) in the very next storyline, but we see enough of her in this one to know that she is both a first-class officer and a sympathetic human being. Given enough time, she might have become a non-canonical fan favorite.
The ever-assimilating, ever-evolving Omnimind itself bears as much resemblance to V’Ger and Landru as it does to the Borg; but it presents a threat credible enough to drive a long and compelling plot. Ron Harris’ art never quite rises to the expert level of Thomas Warkentin (whose work was featured prominently in the first volume), but he captures the characters’ likenesses far better than most of the strip’s latter artists, and presents much of the action with cinematic flair.
If the writers of webseries Star Trek: New Voyages or Star Trek Continues are looking for solid source material, they should consider the Omnimind story as a strong candidate for live-action adaptation.
Kzinti! (Bless You)
Larry Niven, one of literary science fiction’s greats, beamed aboard the strip’s staff for an arc in this volume, bringing his creator-owned aliens, the catlike Kzinti, with him (who also appeared in the animated episode “Slaver Weapon”). The real extraterrestrial stars of this story, however, are the small, grasshopper-like Bebebebeque—or “Beeks,” for short—who are “a powerful economic force within the Federation” all out of proportion to their miniature size. The Beeks are also engineering whizzes who interact with larger, humanoid species by floating around on tiny anti-gravity sleds. They are one of the strip’s most memorable exploitations of the medium’s ability to do what live action (of that time, at least) could not.
Unfortunately, one of this story’s other key elements is an illegal drug smuggling ring run by Enterprise crew members. Still, the story contains enough ship-based danger and planet-side action to make it feel like a solid TOS episode; and the return of the Kzinti and the introduction of the Beeks honor the “infinite diversity” of life in the Trek universe.
Once these first two, lengthy story arcs are finished, the strip starts limping toward its inevitable conclusion. DiVono and Harris’ final story is serviceable enough, even if it, too, depends overly much on Starfleet personnel acting in decidedly non-Starfleet ways (but, then, so did Star Trek VI…). When they depart the strip in September 1982, however (just as the strip adopts those spiffy maroon Star Trek II costumes), both writing and art suffer dramatic declines. The stories become instantly forgettable and sometimes downright laughable. Case in point: the summer 1983 tale in which Spock suffers amnesia and awakens on a world whose civilization is a pseudo-Arthurian feudal society. Watching Spock fall in love with the first fair damsel he sees (of course) and jousting with Kirk, you’ll feel like you’re trapped at an especially lousy medieval-themed restaurant.
Bob Myers turns in some especially dismal artwork to illustrate another story, focused on clones and shapeshifters.
I appreciate that Myers and the strip’s other artists must have worked on tight deadlines, and that they never intended their art to stand up to the scrutiny an oversized, coffee table book format affords. Even so — why do Spock’s ears look like pancakes?
The penultimate story, set between the events of TMP and Star Trek II, attempts to tell the untold story of how Kirk again vacated the Enterprise’s center seat. When Starfleet Command revokes the temporary command it granted him to deal with the V’Ger crisis, Kirk resigns his commission and, desperate for a captaincy, assumes command of an Orion merchant vessel. Though told with the best of intentions and not without its nice moments (such as McCoy shipping out on the Orion ship, too, out of loyalty to his friend), the tale demands too much suspension of disbelief to be entertaining.
The final, strange story hits some nice comic beats as the Enterprise crew encounters a reality (presumably our own) in which Star Trek is a television show, but the reason the ship has returned to the 1980s is chilling. Starfleet has ordered Kirk to shoot down a NASA space shuttle in order to prevent the unwitting introduction of an alien plague to Earth. That Kirk would accept such a mission — let alone that it would take two spunky, video game-loving kids to talk him out of it — is unthinkable. Viewed in the post-Challenger, post-Columbia hindsight (admittedly not a perspective available to the strip’s creative team), the proximity of the Enterprise to an ostensibly doomed space shuttle borders on the morbid, leaving a most sour taste as the volume ends.
Happily, the folks at IDW have provided, as an appendix, an absorbing glossary of characters, planets, species, and technology specific to the newspaper strip as a whole. It’s fun to browse this document; it reminds me of my own attempts, as a teenaged Trek fan, to catalogue and add to the minutiae of the twenty-third century.
This second volume doesn’t always live up to the bar set by the first one, particularly in the shabby art and choppy, frequently bizarre plotlines of 1983. Still, many diehard TOS fans, especially those who are also fans of comic art, will want to add both volumes to their shelves. The books are handsome productions chronicling a fascinating but generally forgotten chapter in the history of our favorite franchise.
7 out of 10 Beek anti-grav sleds