by Harry Lindfield, Jim Baikie, Mike Noble, et al
Edited & Designed by Dean Mullaney. Introduction by Rich Handley
Publisher: IDW (Library of American Comics imprint)
8.5″ x 11 hardcover-with-dustjacket, 244 pages
Out: 28th April 2016
The Book: In 1969, six months before the Star Trek TV series premiered in England, British comics readers were introduced to the characters in an original comic book series. The stories were serialised, generally two to three pages at a time, in 257 weekly magazines spanning five years and 37 storylines. These extremely rare comics have never been published in the United States.
Star Trek fans will quickly note that the comics were not written with strict adherence to Star Trek‘s core concepts. The Enterprise frequently traveled outside our galaxy, and the crew committed many violations of the never-mentioned Prime Directive along the way. Spock shouted most of his lines and often urged Kirk (or “Kurt,” as his name was misspelled in early issues) to shoot first and ask questions later. But it’s precisely that “offness” that makes them so eminently readable and deserving of a proper reprinting. They’re unique in the annals of Star Trek and fans have gone without them for far too long…
The Review: The binding issues of this smashing collection aside (I’ll come to that later, because it’s caused a bit of storm with fans who’ve been waiting for this collection for years), this first volume of Star Trek: The Classic UK Comics is an absolute gem of a book – and top marks to all those involved in getting it together editorially.
Collecting eighteen of the earliest Star Trek stories published in the UK, first in Joe 90: Top Secret, the Joe 90 Top Secret Annual, then TV21 & Joe 90 and TV21, this first volume of stories offers a wonderful mix of often quite bonkers comic stories, where the artists, with little information to go on during the drawing of the earliest strips, deliver strips referencing not only Star Trek but 2001: A Space Odyssey when it comes to spacesuit design; a USS Enterprise that actually lands at a spaceport; shuttlecraft that look like Thunderbird 2; but for all that, aliens that are in some cases truly alien looking and far more entertaining than some in the TV show.
Published concurrently with the Gold Key Star Trek comics, these stories, originally published in weekly instalments, offering short, sharp and, simply fun tales. The art on the stories is supplied by Harry F. Lindfield (who later drew some stunning Doctor Who strips for the short-lived Countdown comic); Ron Turner (who as well as a TV21-published strip drew the annual story featured with scant regard for any visuals supplied as reference, if any!); Jim Baikie; and Mike Noble, who is the artist perhaps most associated with the British Star Trek comic strips (as well as “Fireball XL5” and “Zero X” for TV Century 21 and numerous strips for Look-In).
Introducing the strips, Rich Handley, who worked hard to get this series of collections together (expect the second, currently, in November and a third next year), makes no bones (Bones?) about the quirky nature of these early Star Trek strips. It would seem the writers had little to go on when the series began in Joe 90, either. Although who write what story is lost, they included TV21 regular Tod Sullivan and Look-In stalwart, Angus Allan drafted in at short notice to write one strip and who had Spock calling Kirk “Skipper”, drawing a storm of scorn from readers).
Looking back at these early strips in an age where licensed comics are often put together with the help of Story Bibles, Art Guides and easy access to the actual shows they’re based on, it’s perhaps hard to understand quite how Joe 90‘s editor let slip calling Captain Kirk “Captain Kurt” (in early issues) or why characters such as Spock are portrayed so differently to their on screen versions, often uttering lines like “Great Jupiter!” or “Sufferin’ starships!”.
Series regulars such as Lieutenant Uhura and Doctor McCoy don’t feature in early stories at all, and indeed, Joe 90: Top Secret readers have wondered if the U.S.S Enterprise had ditched its regular crew for an all male one in early stories.
As Rich notes in a piece on the project for StarTrek.com, there’s even the oddity of Dave Bailey (from the early TV episode The Corbomite Maneuver) featured as a main character for several storylines instead of Chekov, likely due to the writer-artist team having been supplied with insufficient reference materials.
(Indeed, it’s been suggested that The Corbomite Maneuver was the only reference the creative teams first had).
Despite the idiosyncrasies of the strips the art throughout positively zings with energy, and for me, Mike Noble’s episodes are positively standout – and by the time he’s assigned the strip, you’ll be relieved to hear, for example, that the shuttlecraft feature as they should be (even if, in one later story in this volume, they are perfectly capable of flying underwater as well as in space, something I don’t think any on screen Captain attempted until Star Trek: Voyager. “If the engines work in space, they’ll work here,” it’s explained. So there!).
Some fans with early access to this first collection have had a question about the binding, referring specifically to the two-page spreads that start off the book. IDW specified with their printer to use what’s called “Lay-Flat” binding. In this type of binding, the pages adhere to a flexible cloth that moves away from the spine, allowing the the spreads to be more easily read than in traditional hardcover binding. You can see what they mean from this supplied photograph.
I think the early concerns about the format from this reader, for one, sprang from a general reluctance to potentially “crack the back” of this sumptuous and not inexpensive collection – a review copy or not. But on experimentation, the text of the affected spreads is legible (although occasionally slightly offset in my copy) and enables a full reading of these gloriously madcap Star Trek adventurs.
If older readers of downthetubes have vague recollections of these tales from your childhood then I think you’ll enjoy them in this new collection, and the printing issue won’t affect volumes two and three since none of those will contain spreads across the spine.
If you’ve never seen these stories before, then take a pinch of salt and dive straight in. It’s a collection that offers a Star Trek voyage the like of which you have never read before!
• Star Trek: The Classic UK Comics Volume One is available to order now from all good bookshops and online retailers
• If you’re interested in the whole history of Star Trek comics, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, published by Sequart, examines the long history of Star Trek in the four-colour realm, including these British strips, featuring insightful essays from popular Star Trek comic scribes and novelists, as well as other experts. There’s more information about the book here and a feature here on the Sequart web site