Last week, I talked about Star Trek: New Visions, the photomontage comics series of Star Trek adventures that John Byrne is doing for IDW.
But before John Byrne got a regular gig telling Star Trek stories, he was just like the rest of us – A Star Trek fan who’d occasionally make reference to it in his everyday life. It just so happened that Byrne’s everyday life was as a popular writer/artist of comic books.
So I thought it’d be fun to see how many ST references I could pick out of Byrne’s classic comic book work. A few things before we dive in – Byrne’s said that he’s an Original Series fan first & foremost, so the references I’m listing here will be to the original 60s show. These examples all predate The Next Generation, anyway. I’m also largely drawing from when Byrne was writing and penciling his books himself – That way we can be more positive that the references originated with him. Oh, and a couple of these entries will contain SPOILERS for both Star Trek episodes and various John Byrne comic book stories. That’s unavoidable, I’m afraid. And lastly, I encourage folks reading this to follow the blue Amazon links to buy stuff there (even if you’re buying something else). That way the AJS gets a small piece of the sale, and we get to keep the lights on here. Plus, you’ll get to read some cool comic books! That’s a win/win.
Uncanny X-Men #135 (July 1980) – Shi’ar Trek
Our first example is one that’s a bit of a continuation of a gag that Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum started in X-Men #105 (June 1977). In this issue, we see a Shi’ar spaceship approaching Earth, and when we cut to their bridge, it’s – Well, see for yourself:
The thing that really cracks me up here is the pose of the Shi’ar Captain in the first panel (his name is Captain K’rk, because of course it is). That’s pure William Shatner right there. A fun little in-joke from Trek fans Cockrum and Claremont.
A few years later, Byrne and Chris Claremont were in the middle of The Dark Phoenix Saga. In X-Men #135, Jean Grey/Phoenix, a longtime teammate driven mad by her ever-increasing power (shades of Gary Mitchell!), consumes a star around an inhabited planet. The star goes nova, and this attracts the attention of a Shi’ar starship patrolling the area:
Here we see the Shi’ar wearing uniforms similar to the ones seen in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture – and the Captain’s stance is nothing if not Shatnerian. Claremont’s dialogue is also reminiscent of Kirk and Spock. Additionally, the Shi’ar spaceship that Byrne and inker Terry Austin drew would look right at home in the ST Universe.
Fantastic Four #253 (April 1983) – “Definitely something there, Captain”
This one is a bit oblique, but I’m thinking it’s a Trek reference. In Fantastic Four #253, Byrne opened with a splash page of an alien spaceship in the Negative Zone (one whose design was, amusingly, drawn from a curling iron):
The opening dialogue is a near-match for one of Spock’s first lines in the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.”
And in case you still have doubts, on the very next page the alien Captain refers to his first officer as “Number One.”
Fantastic Four #275 (Feb. 1985) – She-Hulk’s centerfold is color-corrected
In Fantastic Four #275, the She-Hulk is photographed sunbathing topless on the roof of the Baxter Building by T.J. Vance, a sleazy paparazzi who publishes a skin mag called The Naked Truth. As lawyer Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk tries to prevent Vance from publishing the photos, only to discover that legally, she can’t do anything to stop him. She-Hulk is depressed about the photos seeing print, but when the issue actually comes out, Johnny Storm reveals that Vance made one critical error:
Right after this, Johnny jokes that he’s come back to the Baxter Building to pick up some green-tinted sunglasses from his old room. Oh, Johnny, you perverted little scamp, you!
As Johnny says, the same thing happened to an early Star Trek episode. Well sort of. Back when Gene Roddenberry was preparing “The Cage,” the first pilot episode of his series, his crew did a number of makeup tests for the aliens seen in the episode. Here’s Leonard Nimoy testing a dark makeup for Mr. Spock, standing next to a fair-skinned actress for contrast:
And here’s Roddenberry’s then-girlfriend, Number One actress Majel Barrett, testing the green makeup for the Orion Slave Girl Vina, the upswept eyebrows for Mr. Spock, and a possible hairstyle for Number One:
When Roddenberry got the footage for this makeup test back, however, he was dismayed to discover that Barrett’s complexion looked completely normal. So they tried again, making her up even greener this time. Again, the footage came back with Barrett sporting a regular Caucasian skin tone. Eventually, Roddenberry discovered that his photo developers didn’t realize that Majel Barrett was supposed to be green – they’d been color-correcting the footage to get all the green out. Once the Great Bird of the Galaxy explained the misunderstanding to them, the next makeup test turned out a lot better.
Alpha Flight #25 (Aug. 1985) – “They’d never seen a human before.”
Here’s another one that reaches back to “The Cage” for its reference, but I’ll need to explain some backstory first.
Back in Alpha Flight #12, John Byrne killed off Guardian, the leader of the Canadian superhero group. One year later, as Byrne was gearing up for his final storyline on the book, and he did something very unexpected – he brought James MacDonald Hudson, aka Guardian, back from the dead.
As it turned out, however, Hudson wasn’t really back from the Great Beyond. It was all a plot from the bad guys to trap Alpha Flight and catch them off guard. As a bit of a hint to this, Byrne made the fake Hudson’s resurrection story in Alpha Flight #25 as absurd and over-the-top as he could manage (which, in superhero comics, is an impressive feat in itself). To make a long story short, “Hudson” explained how he teleported away from his exploding super-suit a split second before it killed him. He was then rescued by an alien race who nursed him back to health. Unfortunately, there was a catch:
This of course, is very similar to the reveal about Captain Pike’s love interest Vina at the end of “The Cage.” Vina was horrifically injured when her spaceship crashed on the alien planet of Talos IV. The Talosians put her back together as best they could, but never having seen a human before, they had no point of reference for what one should look like, and so they ended up with this:
A few years after Byrne had left Alpha Flight for good, other creators brought Guardian back from the dead by basically saying, “Oh hey, you know that blatantly false story you were told a few years back? Well, that happened for real and Guardian’s not really dead after all!” Comics, everybody.
Man of Steel #3 (Nov. 1986) – “I might have called you ‘friend.’”
For over 40 years, Superman and Batman were the best of friends. Despite their differences, they got along famously and co-starred together in World’s Finest Comics every month. Then, in 1985, DC Comics revamped their universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, creating a new DC Universe and changing certain things about their history. John Byrne was hired to revamp Superman, and the Man of Steel’s new status quo with the Darknight Detective was introduced in Man of Steel #3:
Superman and Batman meet and work together in this issue, but they’re not pals by the end of it. The most you could say is that they’ve come to an understanding. In the very last panel, Batman muses, “In a different reality, I might have called him ‘friend.’” It was a sly commentary that in the new, post-Crisis DCU, Superman and Batman weren’t going to be as buddy-buddy as they were before.
And for Trek fans, it was a bonus reference – Batman’s line of dialogue was drawn from the ending of “Balance of Terror” – it’s one of the last things that the Romulan Commander says to Captain Kirk right before he self-destructs his ship.
Who’s Who in Star Trek #1-2 (Mar.-April 1987) – David Bailey, Hortas, Iotians, Khan Noonian Singh, Harry Mudd, Sarek
This one is interesting because it gives us some potential insight as to Byrne’s favorite TOS episodes. You may remember Who’s Who as DC’s answer to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe – guidebooks cataloguing all the inhabitants of the DC and Marvel Universes. When DC had the Star Trek comic book license in the 1980s, they put out two issues of Who’s Who in Star Trek – a pre-Star Trek Encyclopedia, post-Star Trek Concordance guide to the ST Universe.
By 1987, Byrne was at DC full-time on the Superman books, so he was a natural choice to draw a few entries in Who’s Who in Star Trek. Several artists on Who’s Who were able to request their favorite characters – and Byrne has some interesting choices.
First up, David Bailey from “The Corbomite Maneuver.” This was the first episode of Star Trek shot after the two pilots, and it’s harder science fiction approach seems like it’s right up Byrne’s alley. Although Enterprise navigator David Bailey isn’t the most visually exciting character in the world, Byrne hits on all the big moments from “The Corbomite Maneuver” – The cube beacon that the Enterprise destroys, Bailey’s inexperience at navigation, Balok’s ship, both versions of Balok, and Kirk and Bailey walking with Balok at the end of the episode. As Byrne by his own admission isn’t great with likenesses, Bailey is transformed into more of a generic comic book character instead of looking like actor Anthony Call. In subsequent entries, Byrne will trace a few Trek stills to ensure good likenesses, as he does with the Balok puppet here.
Next up, the Horta. “Devil in the Dark” is one of the most popular Trek episodes of all time, so it’s no big shock that it’s one of Byrne’s favorites as well. This was probably one of the easier entries he had to do – the Horta is so blobby that you can’t really be off-model on her. The shot of the Horta on the Enterprise‘s bridge is a reference to Lt. Naraht, a Horta Starfleet officer created by tie-in author Diane Duane in her book My Enemy, My Ally. Naraht’s also appeared in a few Trek comics that Duane wrote.
Next, we have the Iotians, who are probably better known as the gangsters from “A Piece of the Action.” This is an offbeat choice, but where else are you going to see Byrne draw Vic Tayback? Here Byrne has traced stills of some of the episode’s big moments, like Kirk and Spock behind the wheel of a 1920s automobile, and Kirk having a summit of the planet’s leaders while standing on a pool table. I personally would have liked to see a representation of the Fizzbin scene, but I guess you can’t have everything. I like how Byrne caught Bela Oxmyx’s gesturing with his glasses here – that’s certainly something that actor Anthony Caruso did during the episode.
Next is a biggie – the genetically-augmented superman from the 20th Century, Khan Noonian Singh. Here we have a pretty nice Ricardo Montalban likeness on a standard Byrne figure of the time. There’s a nice variety to this entry. I like how it’s a mixture of shots from both “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan. I’m guessing that the only thing Byrne traced here was the shot of Khan hoisting Chekov into the air. Another neat thing is that the entry for James T. Kirk directly followed this one. Those two just can’t get away from each other, can they?
I think it’s safe to say that interstellar conman Harry Mudd is another favorite of Byrne’s, as he’s already featured Mudd in two New Visions storylines. From what Byrne’s said on his Forum, Harry Mudd is not allowed to look exactly like his portrayer Roger C. Carmel, as the actor passed away without any next of kin to approve the use of his likeness. Since Byrne went a bit more cartoony with Mudd here, I would guess that this entry was not traced from photo reference. But as Mudd is a more humorous character, the cartoony approach certainly fits. If I had to guess, I’d say that the only thing that was directly traced on this entry was the Enterprise itself – although Byrne was certainly looking at reference for the costumes and such.
Number six of Byrne’s Who’s Who entries is another biggie – Spock’s father, the Vulcan Ambassador Sarek. I think it’s safe to say that Byrne is a fan of Sarek in particular and of actor Mark Lenard in general – Remember that his first Trek comic for IDW was a prequel to Lenard’s first appearance in the Star Trek Universe, “Balance of Terror.” There, Byrne cleverly gave the Romulan Commander from “Balance” a troubled relationship with his son, which was a neat parallel to the Sarek/Spock relationship. It’s also interesting to think that at the time this Who’s Who entry was done, Mark Lenard had only made three appearances as Sarek – “Journey to Babel” and Star Treks III and IV – Four if you count the animated episode “Yesteryear.” I think this is one of the best entries that Byrne did for the Who’s Who in Star Trek series – he certainly captures Mark Lenard particularly well.
It’s interesting that Byrne didn’t do the entry for Number One as well. We know that he’s a fan of the character, as she was the focus of his miniseries Crew and popped up in significant roles in his other Trek stories at IDW. I wonder why. Could Byrne only fit six pages into his schedule? Was he reluctant to do another likeness? Or was it just that another artist snagged her first? I wonder if even Byrne remembers after 30+ years.
Heck, for that matter, I wonder if Byrne might have requested Gary Seven as well? Considering that he did an Assignment: Earth mini-series for IDW, he’s obviously a fan of Mr. Seven. Not that George Perez didn’t do a great job on that one.
Well, that’s all John Byrne Star Trek homages I’ve found so far. Do you folks know of any I missed?