I’ve decided I should dive into a comprehensive read of the Star Trek comic books. I’ve read a lot of them over the years, but far from all of them, not like the books, which, except for a handful of more recent titles, I’m all caught up on. There’s no better place to start such an endeavor than at the beginning, with the Gold Key comics.
I should note up front that these early comic books are a bit off the wall. The writers and illustrators didn’t have much familiarity with the source material, and apparently were provided little in the way of references textual or visual. Obviously they didn’t have the handy-dandy internet for easy research, but you still would expect that the studio could have provided something for them to work with. But beyond the Enterprise itself and some likenesses of the actors, they appear to have been left largely to their own devices. That is both their charm and their curse; their divergences from the show’s established universe and philosophy induce reactions that swing from WTF to painful cringing for the modern audience. And they have a tendency to have the crew utter various family-friendly curses or exclamations that are downright bizarre.
So here we are with issue 1 (July 1967), “The Planet of No Return.” The basic plot is that the crew of the Enterprise discovers a planet dominated by plant-based sentient life forms. On the one hand, this takes great advantage of the limitless effects budget of comic books, allowing the crew to truly find some wild “new life forms and new civilizations.” On the other hand . . . well, we’ll get to that.
First, I’m willing to let go that they set stardates with a colon like times, e.g., “18:09.2,” but when they open up with the Enterprise exploring “Galaxy Alpha” with “no indication of life anywhere,” I’ve got to wonder if the author understands, as Douglas Adams explained, that “space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Anyhoo, things get weird when they finally detect a planet with life. It looks interesting on the “TV scanner.” (For some reason, the writer has no idea of the terminology the show uses, and fills in the gaps with 1950s style nomenclature, causing unintentional hilarity.) On their way to the planet they pass through a “space fog,” and some spores from the fog get aboard, transforming some guinea pigs into giant, hostile carnivorous plants.
Luckily, both Spock and McCoy are saved, and the landing party eventually makes its way down to the planet, and in cool jumpsuits and backpacks to boot. One of the party gets spored while the rest are set upon by a giant hostile plant. The spored guy is transformed into a tree-like plant and saves the remaining landing party by attacking the other plant, and both he and the indigenous plant die.
Strangely, throughout the story the plants are referred to as “cannibals” instead of simply “carnivorous.” It’s indicative of the aggressive (dare I say imperial?) stance the crew immediately adopts to the native life. As the intelligence level of the plants becomes increasingly apparent, there’s no effort made to communicate with them. Instead we get lines of dialogue from Kirk like, “Start triggering . . . we’ve got to blast our way out of this fix.”
Various high jinks ensue as Yeoman Rand—at one point called “honey” by Kirk—gets captured and herded into a pen along with some dinosaur-like animals that the plants keep for food. As Kirk and company try to break her out, they call upon Spock back on the Enterprise to risk using the ship’s “laser beam destruct ray” to destroy a part of the fence so that they can rescue Rand and beam back to the ship. Of course, there’s no reason why they couldn’t just beam her up from where she is without risking incineration her while they shoot the fence.
But Spock fires the weapon, Rand is rescued, and they beam back to the Enterprise. There’s only one thing left to do: genocide. Since they now know that the spores that affected the guinea pigs came from the planet and can travel through space, Spock essentially says that they have to nuke the entire site from orbit, because it’s the only way to be sure that the spores don’t reach other planets. So the last panels show the Enterprise using its “laser beams” to wipe the entire planet clean of life. Yikes.
To end on a happier note, my favorite exclamation from this story was Kirk’s “Suffering solar showers!”