5.03.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 17: John Byrne's Star Trek


As difficult as it is to conceive nowadays, when several shelves are needed for Marvel's monthly offerings of mutant-related titles and crossovers, the X-Men were once just a middle of the pack superteam, the proverbial blip on the radar of Marvel's publishing schedule. This changed somewhat with the appearance of the new X-Men in Giant-Sized X-Men #1 in 1975, but it wasn't until Chris Claremont and John Byrne took over the title in the late 70s that the X-Men became the phenomenon of the comics world. Thanks in no small part to storylines like this one:
"Days of the Future Past," coming to the screen - in some fashion - in 2014.

Byrne remained somewhat unknown to me until my friend Mike got me into Fantastic Four, which, at that time (1983-ish) was undergoing one of its most spirited runs with Byrne as the writer/ artist.
With some recent casting chatter about a new FF movie, I once again renew my lonely crusade: why anyone would make a FF movie that is not a panel-for-panel recreation of this issue is beyond me. It would also make the greatest pilot episode of any ongoing super-series, ever. (If done right.)

Outside of drawing a few entries for Who's Who,


Byrne never produced any Trek work in his long career, despite being a fan since the show's original run in the 60s.

He initially had no interest in doing Trek comics, which we'll get to momentarily. But had Whitman (the late-stage name of Gold Key Comics, before it folded) not canceled it, the last issue of Star Trek would have featured two pivotal characters named Byrne and Cockrum.

When asked about the beginning of his involvement with Trek comics, he had this to say:

"I was at first strongly resistant, until Chris Ryall, the head honcho there, came up with something that could be relatively smooth sailing, the single Romulans issue for their Alien Spotlight miniseries. That allowed me to try a toe in the water, and from there expand my involvement as those waters showed themselves set for smooth sailing."

This story eventually was collected with other stories


for a TPB entitled Romulans: Pawns of War. In the words of Jack Kirby, "it's great; buy it!" (Actually, he said, "Don't ask, just buy it." Included therein is a retelling of "Balance of Terror" from the Romulan perspective. The art is gorgeous, the Trekkiness is spot-on, and the story just might be the best Romulan storyline this side of TNG's "Unification."

Next we come to a truly welcome addition to the Trekverse:


which picks up where TOS "Assignment: Earth" left off. I've always loved that episode and the Gary Seven concept in general. Roddenberry seemed to excel in developing great ideas for tv shows that never went anywhere (Trek being the notable exception) and that episode (a "back-door pilot," a term which probably means something else altogether these days) failed to ignite network interest in an ongoing series.

Issue two features Seven and Roberta Lincoln "behind the scenes" of another TOS episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday."


Therein, he offers a solution to a problem that always bothered JB:

"'The Naked Time' was apparently conceived as the first part of two, the second being 'Tomorrow Is Yesterday.' It's worth nothing that the application of time travel here is the same as the later episode, in that doubling back on oneself some erases the previous timeline. So Kirk and Spock, in 'The Naked Time' express no concern that they have duplicated themselves, and there are now TWO Enterprises zipping around the galaxy. This mirrors the conclusion of "Yesterday," in which the Enterprise going FURTHER back and then "passing thru" the same period somehow erases the events that were seen previously.

"(In issue 2) you will catch me in my most anal fanboy mode, as I did a crossover with 'Tomorrow Is Yesterday,' just to explain away, at least to my own satisfaction, the inconsistencies in the way time travel was handled.

"(As mentioned above) the resolution as presented in the episode doesn't really explain why (Captain John) Christopher and the security guard would LOSE their memories. (This) seems to work of an assumption that going back in one's own timeline and then moving forward normally, somehow ERASES the previous events."

Byrne's solution is novel, but you'll have to read the issue itself to see for yourself.


For my money, his best Trek work was produced for Crew:


which follows the pre-"The Cage" adventures of the unnamed, intellectual, problem-solving bad-ass from played by Majel Barrett for Trek's first pilot. 


It includes a nice callback/ expansion of one of the storylines in Assignment: Earth and this wonderful title page:

I now want to see an episode of Ghost Hunters that explores the possibility that what we think of as ghosts are simply alien lifeforms in a variant state of "phase."
Every story in this collection feels more Trek-like than more than a couple of the films. ("Ghosts" in particular would have been a helluva TOS episode.) It's a shame that Bad Robot (the production company in charge of the new Trek movies) has put the kibosh on any stories that don't feature the new cast at IDW. I don't think any comics creator has grokked Trek the way Byrne obviously does, and he has no interest in doing any stories with the new cast. (Which is also too bad.)


So, it looks like the last Trek he produced will be the last we'll see from him:


which has to be one of the greatest missed opportunities for Trek spin-offs I've yet seen. How I wish someone had thought to put something like this together as a mini-series in the 70s or 80s. On tv, I mean, with DeForest Kelley. But, as with "Assignment Earth," I'm happy to see it gotten round to here and with Byrne in the driver's seat.


Byrne discusses the series here. It's worth picking up, for the casual Trek or Byrne fan alike. For the more seasoned vet of either's work, it's especially delightful.

10 comments:

  1. Byrne's output in the 70s and 80s can't be overstated. For about 12 years or so he was THE go-to artist. Even guys like Simonson took a backseat to Byrne back then.

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  2. I remember buying that issue 236 of FF from the magazine/comic shelf of a convenience store up the street from where I live. Byrne's run on FF is still one of my favorite comic runs.

    I also jumped onto his reboot of Superman, and still have the Man of Steel miniseries. That's telling, because I've kept very few comics over the years, and I've made sure to keep this mini intact. Byrne's take on Supes really colored my perception of the character for a long, long time. Oddly enough, not very far into the run of the rebooted DC Universe, Byrne reintroduced the pre-Crisis Superboy who tangled with post-Crisis Superman. So even though Crisis on Infinite Earths was the longest-lasting and most impactful events in comics history, Byrne quickly introduced a possible way to undo the reboot. Even if the Powers-that-Be at DC essentially undid that undo (Good Lord the continuity of comics is insane), the effects of that act of Byrne's rippled down through DC history until today.

    Crew was an interesting miniseries. It dug into a period and characters not often dealt with. Number One was ahead of her time as a senior officer, which may be why she didn't make it past the original pilot episode (I'm gonna guess that this is discussed somewhere in the volumes of behind-the-scenes Trek material).

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    1. I still enjoy Byrne's Superman, too. I think I prefer other iterations of the character, ultimately, but I sure as hell loved it at the time.

      I agree one thousand percent on the insanity of comics continuity.

      As for Number One, sure, that story's made the rounds; you've probably heard it before. The suits (after several focus groups, comprised of women, thought she was too bossy; "who the hell does she think she is?" etc.) said lose the female first officer. It's too bad. But it's cool to see her get an expanded storyline in Crew. Too bad Majel wasn't around to see it; I'm sure it would've appealed to her.

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    2. I hadn't heard that story about Number One being dropped due to focus group dislike. I can see it, though; I can't think of a similar character from that time period.

      I didn't know about Bad Robot wanting IDW to have their Trek comics feature the Abrams-verse crew. I knew about the Abrams Trek's crew being in IDW comics, but I didn't know it was to the exclusion of all else. I get it from a marketing standpoint, but it sucks as a TOS fan.

      It would be nice if comics could be done that feature all-new crew and ships. The New Frontier novels, as well as the Vanguard series (and others, too, but I haven't read the ones about the Corps of Engineers or any of the others), show the potential of telling stories in the Trek universe without dealing directly with the TV shows and movies. Byrne's comics made a bit of a foray into such territory. I'd like to see more, but if it ever happens, it'll be a good while into the future.

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    3. Agreed on all counts.

      I interacted a bit with Byrne via his forum yesterday; that's where I learned the new Bad Robot rules. (He's pretty anti "NuTrek.")

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  3. I'll have to pick up those Byrne IDW Star Trek series sometime. Wasn't there a mini that focused on Khan as well (maybe that was done by someone other than Byrne)? I notice in the "Assignment: Earth" artwork shown here that Gary Seven looks spot-on like actor Robert Lansing, but Roberta Lincoln is drawn as a sort of generic "Byrne female." Maybe IDW didn't have the right's for Teri Garr's likeness?

    Will you be covering any of the other eras of Trek comics? I remember when Marvel got the license back in the mid-90s they did a Pike-era series (may have been called Star Trek: The Lost Years?) that was actually pretty good.

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    1. I vaguely recall that Pike one. I never read it, though. I highly recommend the IDW Byrnes - great stuff. (He's doing great work over there. Cold War and The High Ways are both top-notch stuff. I'm not a huge Next-Men fan, but if that's your game, he's been doing quite a bit of those as well.)

      I'd like to cover some other eras (particularly those old Gold Keys, which are silly but I have fond memories) but I might not get to them. I'd have to track them all down and acquire them, for one, so that's an obstacle. I realize there are certain... 21st century methods which are a workaround of that. But it's a matter of time, I guess.

      As it is, the remaining Captain's Blogs plan to cover:

      - the movies
      - Jean-Luc and the Gang
      - TOS
      - the book-and-record-sets like "A Passage to Mouav" et al.
      - the fan series "Phase 2" and "Of Gods and Men"
      - a bunch of audiobooks (perhaps one at a time, or perhaps all at a go.)
      - and the DS9 overview, whenever my brother and his wife get that one ready to go.

      Maybe a couple of other surprises, as well.

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  4. If I'm not mistaken, I have never read a single comic by John Byrne. I probably ought to have my comics-fandom card revoked or something.

    I've heard of some of these Trek comics, though, and both the "Assignment Earth" and "Frontier Doctor" ones sound like an absolute joy. They are officially added to my reading list as of now.

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    1. I think it all depends when you started collecting / reading re: Byrne. If it was the 70s or 80s (as in my case) Byrne was ubiquitous back then. If it was the 90s or 00s, though, I can see how it'd be easy to miss him. He did some work at The Big 2 during that time, but it wasn't on main-title stuff. I personally rather enjoyed his X-Men: Hidden Years, but I don't know how high profile it was. I came to it well after the fact. I thought it was cool, though, to see both Claremont and Byrne get to play around with the X-verse again.

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