I participated in a fantastic comment thread with some greats, earlier-today, discussing New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics with Rich Handley, Tom Mason, Timothy Tuohy, Mark Bourne, Leonard Kirk and a few others. It was a fascinating conversation, with lots of insightful behind-the-scenes info about Star Trek comic book production, and – some of the pratfalls they had to endure, while trying to bring us quality material. Afterwards, I felt the need to review something, so I hauled out some old comic books and settled-down to read DC’s 1990 Annual: So Near the Touch.
Believe it, or – not, I’ve had this gem for almost a quarter-century, but I’ve never read it. (“Oh myyyy!” George Takei might say; seeing’s how he co-wrote this Sulu tale, with legend-in-his-own-right, Peter David.) Yeah! And, what a lost opportunity, for me, as it is a fine story! With a spectacular cover by JK Moore, So Near the Touch has artwork by Gray Morrow, is colored by Tom McGraw and lettered by Bob Pinaha; and – the incomparable Robert Greenberger is the editor of this 61-page treat, as well.
Set shortly-after the events in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, we open (with a prologue) on the planet Datugad, where the indigenous inhabitants, the Essejjians, are forced to live apart; they spontaneously combust within-moments of any kind of physical contact. It’s clear that the natives are living a life of anguish and that civil unrest weighs-heavily upon their lives, as well.
Aboard the Enterprise N.C.C. 1701-A ‘Sulu the Magnificent’ is about to cut Chekov in half, (aided by his lovely assistant, Uhura), before an amused audience of Captains’ Kirk, Spock, and Scott, CMO Leonard McCoy, and others. With Chekov ‘beside himself,’ they are quickly called away by a call from Starfleet’s Surgeon General’s Office. We learn of Datugad’s plight, the reasons for why they are in these dire straights and what Starfleet plans to do, to help these people survive inevitable extinction. Enter Dr. Corazon Kohwangko; friend (and, more) to Hikaru Sulu. The Enterprise is tasked with ferrying the doctor’s team to Datugad, where they will begin ex utero fertilization to grow a new batch of disease-free Essejjians.
En-route, we learn of how Sulu and Kohwangko met, how their relationship burgeoned from a love-at-first-sight romance and, how that flame is lit-anew with their reunion. Upon reaching Datugad, the doctor’s team is kidnapped by a religious fanatic and his followers, their lives threatened if the Federation doesn’t halt it’s plans. Ordered to wait for a negotiation and rescue team, Kirk’s hands are tied. Sulu, relieved of duty by Capt. Kirk, decides to mount a rescue operation on his own, (albeit, with an assist from Chekov and a security detachment). Sulu saves the team, but the end is bittersweet; Kohwangka is now-infected with the disease and cannot leave the planet, much-less pursue their relationship. Also, Sulu’s career plans are thwarted, by his disobeying orders and his misappropriation of Starfleet equipment. We’re left with Sulu in a state of heartbreak and regret, with Kohwangka living her own anguished-existence upon the planet Datugad.
I didn’t see this ending coming, but I should have expected it, nonetheless; as throughout the story, Yin and Yang are mentioned frequently: “Always together… Always apart.” Their love for one-another was evident from the moment Kohwangka entered the story. At the end, I was reminded of how Kirk felt after he had to let Edith Keeler die: Sulu risked his entire career to save the woman he loved, only to be denied her love, anyway; and because of his insubordination, his career stagnates. Even though this is a ‘non-canon’ tale, it does clear-up why Sulu didn’t reach the captain’s chair sooner, and I like this filling-in of that gap. Sulu’s actions, while heroic, had severe consequences; but in the end, they will make him an even stronger captain in the future. “Not so big as her captain, I think.” Scotty will go on to state, in Star Trek VI.
Despite the somber ending, there were some terrific moments of levity penned-in throughout. For example: during Sulu’s magic trick, Chekov’s head (sticking out of one-half of the box) is looking at his feet (in the other-half of the box) and he says, “Are my feet really that big?” Or, when they get the call from Starfleet, they all depart and leave Chekov lying there in pieces. The banter between Kirk, Spock and Bones is everything we love, too. There’s one scene in-particular, where they’re discussing Sybok and the events on Nimbus III; Kirk, tiring of Spock’s arguments against him, lashes-out: “Let’s forget Nimbus III, shall we?” I got the impression, that Takei and David were actually-saying: “Let’s forget Star Trek V, shall we?” Indeed. (Although, I will defend that movie, until my death…JS.)
The action, adventure and drama keeps you moving forward, giving everyone a chance to shine, most-especially, Sulu. We even get a great ‘swashbuckling’ fight scene between Sulu and Shelm (the leader of Datugad’s resistance), as he crashes-in to save his damsel in distress. Plus, the friendship between he and Chekov is front-and-center, as they start out in the light-hearted magic show, but end-up with Chekov showing his complete loyalty to his best friend, in helping Sulu mount a rescue operation; (putting himself in the sights of a court-martial, as well).
Overall, I really-dug this adventure; it’s #GreatStarTrek! I was taken by surprise, with the use of the ‘life shield belts’ from TAS. How-cool, to bring in that technology, from a show that wasn’t considered ‘canon,’ at that particular moment in time. Not-only did it pay an homage to that brief Star Trek history, but it gave Scotty his moment to live up to his reputation as a ‘miracle worker,’ thus-allowing Dr. Kohwangka’s team to do their jobs without fear of becoming infected. (Kohwangka brought her own fate, upon-herself, with her heroism in saving a member of her team.)
As for the art, I was thoroughly pleased with Gray Morrow’s work. His likenesses of the crew were pretty-damned good, while his renderings of the Essejjian’s were fresh and just-right. At first, I thought they were bland, but their playing-card-like garb and lack of skin tone make them just alien-enough to be, well…alien. Their planet is drab, filled with toxic waste in the water, soil and air, and the inhabitants are depressed, diseased, living in despair and there is no hope; their blandness hits the mark, spot-on. In contrast, the Enterprise and the story of Sulu and Kohwangka is full of color; a polar opposite to Datugad and what’s transpiring there. Of course, I’ve always been a fan of those post-TMP uniforms, anyway, so it was great to see them here, in such vivid detail.
The spotlight goes to Jerome K. Moore for that outstanding cover, though. He captured the entire story in one page: Sulu (the star), Kohwangka and Chekov by his side, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise in supporting-cast roles; plus, the Essejjian’s, with their combustible state and beleaguered existence, while Sulu fights the despotic Shelm in the background… It’s a beautiful cover and it wraps-up everything that’s terrific about the pages within.
Yes, this comic came out 24 years ago, but it’s a tale that can withstand the hands of time, because it’s a tale as-old, as time, itself: love, loyalty, friendship, service, and – sacrifice. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend you get it. Enjoy it! It’s a great way to pass an afternoon, as you seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before…
‘Til, next-time, see ya ‘out there…’
Lt. Eric Cone