Captain's Blog pt. 25: Guide to the Gold Key Trekverse

A full set for all of the Trek comics that Gold Key published goes for a pretty penny on eBay, but I got these 4 softcover collections for a song.

They only (!) collect the first 35 issues of the series, so technically, I have read only about half of the total output. I could get the trade paperbacks that collect the whole series, and maybe someday I will. For those of you who want a great issue by issue breakdown, I'm happy to report there's one already out there, on Curt DanHauser's site.

I first started collecting at the tail end of the once-mighty Western/ Dell/ Gold Key publishing empire. I only had eyes for Marvel, so I never came to any of this stuff until the 21st century, when my appetite for "retro" increased quite a bit.

Anyone who wants a cheap and packed-full-of-anecdotes overview of the whole saga is encouraged to download or track this down. Bruce Timm designs some great covers for Twomorrows Publishing.
Gold Key was known for its pop art covers, like these:

and unique paneling

 And then it adopted the painted cover approach:

I first became aware there was a non-Marvel/ DC comics publisher on a trip to Georgia (I think) in 1981 when my grandmother went to the store to buy me some comics (probably to shut me up.) She came back with this weird three-comics-in-one bag thing by some publisher called "Whitman."

What the frak?
Whitman was the last gasp of the aforementioned publishing empire. I didn't think anything of it at the time, just noted the different covers and panel design, then put it at the bottom of my comics trunk and went back to Spider-Man and Daredevil. 

Before the licensing rights to Trek went to Marvel and elsewhere, though, they were the sole province of Gold Key Comics. Gold Key was definitely "old school," i.e. they didn't think too much about giving writers and artists credit. They were also of the "solicit artwork from Italy because it's cheap" thinking, so sometimes the scripts and art seem to be working at cross-purposes.

At any rate, someone should erect a statue to commemorate the work of Gold Key's "Unknown Writer." For the Trek comics, Len Wein and George Kashdan wrote the majority of the known stories. And Alberto Giolitti and Nevio Zaccara and Alden McWilliams provide most of the artwork. Spock and Kirk, for the most part, look like Nimoy and Shatner, but Uhura and Scotty (and even Sulu) change looks often throughout the 35 issues I read.

I can only assume this was a result of the artists and writers (and publishers) never being in the same room, much less on the same page, through the Gold Key run. Writingwise, this Trekverse has some interesting differences than the one(s) we know and love.  The first 8 issues are probably the most curious to read in this regard, as planets are named somewhat whimsically (i.e. "Planet Numero Uno,") characters frequently say things like "Great Galaxies!" or "What in the name of Space?" and several galaxies (all invented) are mentioned or visited (!) in the span of a few issues. Most notable, though, is the use of Space Esperanto in lieu of the universal translator, something which elicited a chuckle each and every time I saw it. (Luckily, Shatner has a headstart on the language from his time in Incubus.)

Also, the role of money is somewhat confusing in this iteration of the Trekverse. Several plots revolve around some alien bad guy taking a planet hostage and demanding "30 billion space credits" from the Federation. If that sort of thing is a bridge too far for you, don't even bother, but if you get a kick out of that, as I do, these things are actually a lot more rewarding to read than I anticipated. It's a curious glimpse, as all non-canon stuff is, into a Trek that never was.

The complete covers gallery is kind of fun to flip through. A lot of these covers blurbs really make you think This happens an awful lot to the Enterprise crew, doesn't it?

As mentioned above, the full series was collected in trade paperback, but those collections don't include the bells and whistles from The Enterprise Logs, namely Kirk's and Spock's "Psychofiles:"

"Surviving son of Benjamin kirk, hero of the Klingon Repulsion," eh?
Are those supposed to be Vulcan children? I also like the "They make Spock very unhappy!" I wonder when Spock stopped referring to himself in the third person.
this excerpt from Scotty's diary:

or this From Sputnik to Warp Flight business:
The Kzinti Invasion? Also, Zephram, not Zefram?
Familiar faces, but different:



As demonstrated last time with that Afro-Kirk picture, sometimes things get a little weird:

Um... seriously, Captain?
In "Child's Play," McCoy mentions that Warp 8 is 512 times the speed of light. In the same story, the Enterprise has to go from end of the Milky Way to the other. Hmm. You do the math, here...

Speaking of light years, this sort of confusion about what they measure seems troubling for one's Chief Engineer.
And some of the plots seem a little familiar:

 I love that "I just can't shoot Abe Lincoln" line. Actually, there's a lot to love in this issue. (These panels are from two different parts of the story, by the way, so it's not as weird a transition as shown here.)
In particular, "Museum at the End of Space" is remarkably similar to the story that would eventually become "The Time Trap" in TAS. (Oh, I see the TAS episode is "adapted from the comic book," so mystery solved.)

All in all, I had a lot of fun with these. A few of the stories were genuinely great (such as the one whose name I can't quite recall, now, where Spock makes the discovery that stars themselves are sentient beings; that's quite a discovery!) and it was amusing to read these at the same time I'm reading DC's and Marvel's efforts with Trek. (The subject of a later post in this series.) For all the sophistication of DC's and Marvel's, I almost prefer Gold Key's more off-the-cuff approach. Although they settle into a more recognizable Trek pattern after the first twenty issues or so, for the first twenty issues or so, I was observing a world where galaxies could be zipped around like a small town, and everywhere you go, you were hailed in "Space Esperanto." I have to say: that's a universe I want to live in.

And I am now adding "Warp Four Loony" to my list of insults.


  1. Good God, the Gold Key Treks. Inconsistant art, coloring, writing. I believe quite firmly no one connected with the comics ever actually watched the show. I have most of the series but I'm not proud of myself. Other than a vague sense of nostalgia I can't explain why anyone would intentionally read these now.

    I wonder if the "Kzinti" inspired the Xindi. I wouldn't put it past Berman and Braga.

    Spock referring to himself in the thord person. Joe is confused.

    1. The Kzinti may have inspired the name Xindi, but that's about it. Larry Niven's 8-foot-tall bipedal berserker great cats don't resemble the Xindi at all.

    2. " I believe quite firmly no one connected with the comics ever actually watched the show. "

      Ask Len Wein; he wrote most of them.

  2. Gold Key Comics were something else, quite a change of pace from Marvel and DC. My earliest comic memory is buying a Gold Key Digest of Turok, Son of Stone in the summer of 1973.

    The Gold Key Treks are so chaotic that they can't help but be entertaining. They remind me of those comics from India that get profiled on Cracked; the characters and basic situation are passingly familiar, but in a nightmare-funhouse-mirror kind of way.

    As I recall, a lot of the earlier issues were, indeed, done before the artists in Italy had seen the show. That accounts for some of the inconsistency.

    That panel of Kirk asserting command control down the barrel of a phaser gave me a huge laugh. I immediately wondered what the Mirror Universe for the Gold Key Treks was like!

    The covers are definitely the highlight of the series, as is true of most Gold Key comics. I think I prefer the photo covers, but it's only a slight preference; those painted covers are also fantastic. If they made them available as posters, I don't know how I'd avoid bankruptcy.

    1. I echo that thought on bankruptcy! A wall of Gold Key Trek covers as posters would be irresistible.

      "They remind me of those comics from India that get profiled on Cracked; the characters and basic situation are passingly familiar, but in a nightmare-funhouse-mirror kind of way."

      Absolutely. That's how I approached it, myself. One of these alternate-non-canon-Trekverses to explore, and with several rewarding bits of lunacy, like the apparent zipping about from galaxy to galaxy in a manner of days, the monetary differences, etc. Or the alternate bits of backstory, all fun stuff.

      The history of that whole Dell/ Western/ Gold Key business is fascinating stuff. The Comic Book Artist issue featured above has a wealth of info, interviews, etc.

  3. I read the first four issues of these a few weeks back. The first one involves the crew being trapped on a planet where there are intelligent plants which use animals for food. Our heroes escape their clutches, and Kirk orders the Enterprise to fly around the planet destroying all plant life with its phasers. Kirk literally orders the genocide of an entire species. Wow.

    I tend to agree with the idea that the people writing those comics -- the four I've read, at least -- had never seen the series. This stuff has about as much to do with "Star Trek" as...something else that has nothing to do with "Star Trek."

    But they do have their own charm, and there's a lot of imagination on display. I'd be willing to bet a significant amount of money that there were kids out there who read the comics but had never seen the show, but DREAMED of how awesome it must be, but who later managed to see some episodes and thought, "That's IT?!?" I betcha it happened.

    1. The Kirk destroys the plant aliens is a hell of a way to start the series, isn't it!

      The writers for the first few issues are unknown, but they probably had something like the Star Trek bible available to them - but it was probably a synopsis saying "they're on a starship, there's a Vulcan (they've got pointy ears) and have fun."

      Once Len Wein got involved, they began appearing more like TOS. (Len was and likely still is a big Trek fan.)

      I'll be continuing my looking at non-canon stuff for these very reasons, i.e. it's fun/ interesting to see how Trek looks like in alternate universes.

    2. I think that somewhere, I may still have some of the Power Records book/comic sets. I need to go spelunking in my storage and see what it turns up.

    3. Bryant and Bryan, I think I have all the Trek Power Records sets. Plus a lot of the Marvel ones as well. The Trek records are pretty bad but interesting if put into historical perspective. Man, I haven't listened to them in years. Now I gotta go warm up the old turntable.

    4. I'm not sure how the Power Records came up, but that's cool that you guys still have those. Like I mentioned in the canon/ non-canon blog, I won't be covering those, but you can watch them all on you-tube if you so desire:


      Jeff B volunteered to guest-blog those for this here Captain's Blog series. You guys should team up and cover them. Dog Star Omnibus pays very little (i.e. nothing) but think of the prestige and acclaim... Nothing like "Guest Blogged on Dog Star Omnibus" to spruce up the ol' c.v.

    5. Yeah, that's my fault for bringing up the Power Records thing -- it came to mind for some reason, probably prompted by the whole "Say, did these people actually ever SEE Star Trek?!?" concern.

      I have nu functional turntable, so even if I have the records, I couldn't listen to them.

      But that's why YouTube is awesome. That and all the cat videos. And the other stuff, too, I guess.

  4. I wondered if something like this existed. It's blog review of I think the very first gold key Trek comic. Bear in mind this review was released prior to the release of the first Abrams Trek film.

    Here's atop the fourth wall:



  5. Nah, that vlog is about DC Comics' Star Trek #1.

    1. I'll be covering the DCs, as well, but from the general approach that Atop the Fourth Wall guy is taking, I can tell he and I are coming from different angles. More power to him and all.