After my recent Marvel Star Wars lovefest -- and it's still ongoing, so expect a few more posts on it in the future, at least -- I was reminded of another comic I read and loved as a kid: the Gold Key Star Trek comics. These were apparently the first licensed Trek comics and were published between 1967 (while the show was still on the air) and 1978 (just before the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). I never owned the individual issues but instead had a couple of paperback volumes that collected many issues together under a single cover.
As I think I've said too many times, I became a Star Trek fan at a young age; I must have been four or five when I saw episodes in syndication on a Washington, DC independent TV station. So, these comics really grabbed me and, if you look at the illustration above, you might be able to see why. Despite the really goofy plots of many of them -- or, rather, most of them -- there was something to them that I found compelling.
At the time, I couldn't have told you what it was, but, re-reading them now, I'm pretty sure I know: these comics emphasized Star Trek as a descendant of earlier "serious" sci-fi, which, of course, it was. Just look at that "landing party" gear the crew are wearing there, complete with backpacks and canteens. That's like something out of Forbidden Planet (a movie I loved then, as I do now). Now take a look at this depiction of the transporters from the comics:
Maybe I'm crazy but I love the 50s sci-fi look of the thing, with big emitters on either side and the much flashier dematerialization effect. And the comic books are filled with this stuff. I simply adored the imagery, even if it was often at odds with what we saw in the series. (The reason for that, apparently, is that its earliest artists were working only from stills of the show, never having actually seen it themselves).
Yet, somehow, it all worked for me and I kept reading and re-reading these damned things, whose stories were invariably the worst kind of grade-Z space opera drek. Here's just one example of what I mean and it pretty nicely sums up everything that was wrong with the Gold Key comics:
Yes, I realize that, even now, several of you are preparing to write comments about how absolutely awesome it is to see Spock and Scotty decked out as retro-future space pirate swabbies, puffy pants and all, but I can't agree with you. Whereas I think the Marvel comics did a great job of extending the implied universe of the first film, the same cannot be said of the Gold Key comics. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot of really silly stuff in The Original Series, but, in most cases, an effort is made to provide a "plausible" justification for why Abe Lincoln and Genghis Khan are fighting or why Apollo is grabbing the Enterprise out of flight.
These comics, on the other hand, don't bother with such trifling matters. Space pirates dress like Blackbeard's men, because, well, that's what kids expect of pirates. No further explanation is needed, let alone provided. Now, maybe this is just a case where I really have become a bitter old prune without a sense of whimsy, but I don't think so. The Gold Key Trek comics are just bad. I love the artwork but the writing -- and the imagination behind it -- is sub-par, or, to be more charitable, inappropriate to the kind of sci-fi Star Trek was channeling.
I'm glad I'm having the chance to look at these again, but don't expect a flurry of posts from me extolling their virtues as inspiration for re-imagining Star Trek. The artwork is inspirational, but I'm not sure I can look past the stories, which are just shameful.