New Life and New CivilizationsEvery once in a while, something special comes along that sends shivers of excitement through my brain and gets my heart skipping erratically. There’s something new coming this summer (August?) and it’s had me popping-nitro, from the anticipation, ever-since I first heard about it. It’s ‘New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics’  from Sequart Research and Literacy Organization. (See this, from their mission statement: “Sequart Organization is devoted to promoting comic books as a legitimate artform and to the study of popular culture.”)

Well…Star Trek is the granddaddy of popular culture, isn’t it? Spanning nearly 50 years, Gene Roddenberry brought us Star Trek on Sept. 8, 1966 and it has become one of the most-enduring franchises in entertainment history. Five television series, a cartoon series, over a dozen movies, (plus, new-episodes and movies being produced by fans), Star Trek continues to boldly take us where no man has gone before.

A large part of Star Trek’s longevity and continued loyalty, is due to the hundreds of novels and reference-books, which deal with all aspects of the series, setting the imaginations of dozens of writers loose, in a universe ripe with potential. The stories abound, never failing to bring us strange new worlds and new alien lifeforms from every corner of the galaxy. The characters we love are brilliantly-written, expanded-on and examined, tested to the limits, yet, always staying true to Gene Roddenberry’s message of tolerance, peace and hope for humanity’s future among the cosmos, as-well-as, here at home.

Amazingly, comic books have brought us Gene’s message and new adventures for nearly the entire time, with very little in the way hiatuses, since 1967. These comics have continued to examine the human condition and what our future may hold, while still shedding-light on our weaknesses: racism, violence, greed, corruption, war. That’s what ‘New Life and New Civilizations…’ will be tackling; the history of Star Trek comics; from the actual comics to newspaper strips to McDonald’s Happy Meals and, anything-else that is considered a sequential art-form, along the way.

Joseph F. Berenato came up with this extraordinary concept, after having success with Sequart’s ‘GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES: 14 ESSAYS ON WHY THE 1960s BATMAN TV SERIES MATTERS.’ After years of dialogue with Sequart, Joseph enlisted the help of Rich Handley, who put the word out to some of his friends about the project’s consideration. According to Joseph: “The weight of some of the names of people asking to contribute to my idea was both astounding and humbling, and was enough for Sequart to greenlight the project.” I can believe it.

Like myself, Joseph (the editor of ‘New Life and New Civilizations…’) has had a lifelong love-affair with comics. “Comics for me have always served as escapist entertainment — no matter what was happening in my life, for good or bad, comics always whisked me away to another world, where I could forget everything in my life for a short time. I’ve loved comic books for as long as I can remember. And, like so many of us, Star Trek comics have been at the heart of that love.” I couldn’t have said it any better, as I feel the same way; (including everyone-else involved with this exceptional project, it seems).

This project has some amazing talent, contributing their takes on different aspects and eras of this history, and I asked a few of them for their feedback. The response was terrific and they were delighted to help me, in this, my project. Keith R. A. DeCandido is looking back at Wildstorm, in which he wrote a 4-part miniseries called ‘Perchance To Dream’. “Writing ‘Perchance To Dream’ was one of the first things I ever did for Star Trek, and writing that miniseries still has a warm place in my heart.” He said it was fun to look back on the cool stuff Wildstorm did and how their brief tenure influenced other lines of comics. Keith, also-wrote an IDW Alien Spotlight comic ‘Klingons’, which deals with Kang, from Kirk’s era to just-before the DS9 episode ‘Blood Oath.’

Dayton Ward has the best gig, to me, as he looks at the second-run of the Marvel line. This was a massive marketing event, in that it touched on everything: Early Voyages with Pike, Nog was a main-character in Starfleet Academy, we had DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER, plus, Marvel did the Untold Voyages and Unlimited, as well. Dayton said he prefers TOS: “Though nearly every incarnation of Star Trek has been depicted in comics form, for me the original series seems best-suited to the format. Obviously the show’s bolder color palette lends itself to easier translation to the comics medium, but the stories also were a little brasher and sometimes even over the top, and of course the series as a whole is more action-oriented than its various offspring. After all these years, Kirk and the gang remain my favorite.” An interesting tidbit: despite hopping all over the place (as he put it), Dayton never missed a single issue (from DC Comics), while serving in the USMC. I can relate to that; once you’re hooked, you gotta have them all.

Scott Tipton is no stranger to comics; according to ComicVine, he’s credited in 106 issues. One of those is my all-time favorite, ‘ASSIMILATION²’; co-written, with his brother David, it has the beautiful artwork of J.K. Woodward, as-well-as, Tony Lee. Scott is recapping the Gold Key comics: “Some of the earliest comics I can remember reading are those great Gold Key Star Trek collections of the early 1970s, and it’s been great fun to go back and look at those stories with a modern eye and re-discover them all over again.”

Now, I’ve gotta confess, I have always loved comics, but I didn’t learn about Star Trek comics, until 1991. That was when DC Comics had the licensing and it was helmed by Robert ‘Bob’ Greenberger, (a founding member of Crazy 8 Press). A major Star Trek fan, in his own right, Bob started with DC in 1984, under Marv Wolfman. He grabbed the title with both hands for the next 8 years, when Marv left and, eventually, was tasked with launching the spin-off comic ST: The Next Generation. “While the former [TOS] has justly received accolades over the years,” he stated, “the TNG title is often overlooked. I remain incredibly proud of launching the book and when I had a chance to revisit those early times with Captain Picard and crew, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

I love fast-food, but who knew McDonald’s had Star Trek Happy Meals? Kevin Dilmore did and he takes a look at various premiums offered-up by that fast-food giant, as-well-as, Kenner Toys and others. “I know my essay begs the question, likely more so than any other essay in the book: who cares about all that stuff when it’s just for kids? That’s precisely my interest in those stories. Everything we love, whether it’s a movie or a book or a TV show or a sports team—everything—somehow got us hooked.” (For me, it was those Saturday-morning cartoons by Filmation, that started my lifelong Trekkie status and, TAS was just a live-action ‘comic’, to me.) But, Kevin’s enthusiasm for those ST: TMP ‘Happy Meals’ got him a slot on this brilliantly-conceived project.

Rich Handley has the task of looking at the L. A. Times comic strips, (Alan J. Porter is covering the oft-overlooked British strips). “Joe asked me to cover that particular branch of Trek comicdom for his anthology, and I was as happy as a ravenous Tribble in a storage bin filled with chocolate-covered quadrotriticale to do so.” Rich had written pieces on these strips in the past and he loves them, so he decided to expand on the decade-long path of false starts to getting them reprinted, (“…even the ones, that admittedly…kind of suck…” he joked).

It’s fair to say, that Star Trek comics have played a major role in shaping us, while keeping us entertained, as we awaited the next movie, series or book. Hell, even William Shatner has weighed-in, with the ‘The Ashes of Eden’ comic-book adaptation (from DC) of his first ST novel (co-written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens). (Mine’s autographed, by the Shat, himself.) In corresponding, with just the handful of contributors, above, I find myself in good company. We ALL love Star Trek comics. Rich Handley told me he has every comic from 1967-to-date. That’s impressive. I have a mish-mash of about 300 issues, myself, from all of the publishers. In researching this, I’ve just realized, I have the only-joint DC/Malibu venture: the 4-part TNG/DS9 minseries-crossover. I’ve got every issue of Marvel’s second-run, (save-one, Voyager’s SPLASHDOWN #4). Myself, I’m partial to the DEEP SPACE NINE, Early Voyages and Starfleet Academy titles, from Marvel’s short run; (plus, let us not forget that Mirror Universe sequel-issue, where Spock kills Kirk). I’ve got an old Whitman comic, as well.

IDW, too, has put out some phenomenal work, as-well-as, bringing comics to ‘The Next Generation’, with today’s digital technology. I love the eComics because they’re right there at my fingertips and I don’t have to drive 30 miles to pick up my hold at The Dragon’s Keep. That said, I miss having that paper-version in my hands and seeing my friends at my favorite comic-book store, as well. Another downside is, I can’t wallpaper my den with eComics, either. At one time, I had over 500 comics (that’s all genres: Superman, Batman, Hulk, FF, ST, Spiderman, etc.) papering my walls and it was great to look at those breathtaking covers and the sensational art.

As these folks look back on this history, I’ll say this; I am disappointed in one area of this enduring genre: there is not one single-issue of Star Trek: Enterprise. You would think, that that mediocre series could be salvaged, in comics-form, giving us the stories we wanted to see during its brief run, such as, the Romulan War or, the founding of the Federation… That’s all I will say, except… If Star Trek could be saved with a letter-writing campaign, so, too, can Enterprise be given a comic book series. I know Michael Clark (here at VisionaryTrek) agrees with me. Here’s how to contact IDW Comics, if you’d like to weigh-in…

Did you know…you, too, can own every Star Trek comic, from July 1967 to October 2002? It’s called Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection and it’s got everything from Gold Key to DC, Malibu to Marvel (both runs) and Wildstorm, all on one DVD-ROM. There are over 500 complete printable comics, including annuals and specials. It’s well-worth the money, I assure you.

As for ‘New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics’, I asked if this was the first of its kind; Joseph told me: “To our knowledge, yes. Alan Porter wrote a great history of the comics, but we believe this is the first critical analysis.” It’s a concept I’ve never even considered, but, looking-back on the comics I have, it’s well-past the time to do this. Why hasn’t anyone ever done this before?! I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of comics, from, what…at-least, 7 different publishers, over a span of 44 years; (no comics books were published from 2003-06). Not-to-mention, all of the writers, artists, inkers, letterers and production people who need to be acknowledged, for their parts in this long history.

That’s finally going to change. There are 16 contributors (according to the count on the website), with a forward by David Gerrold, that will be enlightening us on the storied-history of these comics. As Joseph said: “All of the essays are in, and they’re wonderful. It has been an honor to work with each of the contributors, and it’s been a wild ride. I’ve had the opportunity, through this project, to work with people whose work I have respected and admired for years. This really has been the dream project of a lifetime.

“I could not be more pleased with the caliber of work turned in by each and every contributor,” Joseph Berenato stated. “This project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without them, and it is their work that has made this what I believe to be THE definitive examination of Star Trek comics.”

All I can say is, I can’t wait to get my hands on this. How ’bout you? If I’m right, ‘New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics’ is going to become a must-have reference-guide, for every Trekkie in the galaxy. Well…until, we can convince Sequart to provide us with a Star Trek comics encyclopedia, that is. Now, THAT would be cool. That’s a project I would love to work on, too.

Lt. Eric Cone