The world of “Star Trek” comic books is vast. Since almost the very start, the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and her crew were cataloged and recreated in the pages of Gold Key Comics, Whitman Comics, Marvel, DC, Wildstorm, and now IDW Publishing.
Since there are no budget constraints on special effects in comics, creators have been able to pair Kirk, Spock, Picard, and other characters with different pop culture properties. This includes the Transformers, Green Lantern, Dr. Who, Planet of the Apes, and even Santa Claus (who haunted the Enterprise-D in a DC comic limited series in the late 1980s).
The stories are original or a retelling of what fans have seen on television or at the movies. Sometimes the stories in Trek comics are based on tales that did not make it onto film. This is the case for Harlan Ellison’s “City on the Edge of Forever,” which IDW published as a five-issue series. Ellison “hated” the version of “City” that aired as part of “Star Trek: The Original Series.”
Among the times which publishers retold a story in comic format is the movie adaptation. Most all of the early Trek movies were adapted into comic book format in conjunction with the film’s release, except for the greatest of them all — “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That comic series would be released 27 years after the film.
Star Trek comics
How did this happen? According to Andy Schmidt, who wrote the IDW series which adapted “Wrath of Khan” in 2009, there was a surprising reason.
“Marvel Comics had the rights to the first film, ‘The Motion Picture,’ and they put that out, but that film did not do a great business for them,” said Schmidt in a recent interview with Heavy. “So no one had the license for the second movie. The second movie comes out, and everybody loves it.”
“DC had the rights for [The Search for Spock] and on, and they did the adaptations,” said Schmidt.
IDW goes “back in time”
Schmidt is now the owner of Comics Experience, a training and mentioning company for aspiring artists and comic book writers. After a noteworthy career with Marvel and IDW, Schmidt writes and edits for many independent titles.
“When I was at IDW, I was an editor doing ‘Star Trek’ comics; they wanted to put out a collection of ‘Star Trek’ II, III, and IV,” said Schmidt. “That was a saga, and all three of those films were connected.”
Schmidt says that since Marvel or DC never actually made a “Wrath of Khan” adaptation, IDW asked him to adapt the film for comics. This was a treat for Schmidt, who owned a copy of the original “Wrath of Khan” film script.
The IDW team created a three-issue series based on the film, and Schmidt says they made an artistic decision that angered many Trek fans.
“We got raked over the coals for a couple of things,” said Schmidt. “We didn’t have the space to do the whole thing, so I took that opportunity to create a slightly different narrative experience.”
A “slightly different experience”
What Schmidt meant by ‘experience’ was that he used the infamous Chekov ear scene as a cliffhanger between two of the three issues.
“I don’t actually show the slug,” said Schmidt. “We cut right before you see Khan for the first time. And we cut away from the scene. We don’t explain what happened to Chekov… so that when Chekov calls in, later on, you don’t know that he’s being mind-controlled.”
Schmidt says that the story flows just as the script and film did, but he “tweaked” the Ceti Eel scene. He says that fans were also unhappy with his treatment of the Kobayashi Maru scenes — which the comic showed from outside the Enterprise and not in the training center, as happened in the film.
“I was like ‘gimme a break!’” said Schmidt. “We wanted to show some starships in here at some point!”
Schmidt said it was a thrill to work on “Khan” because he was such a fan of the film. He also said that he enjoyed getting comments and notes from Paramount on his take on the classic.
“I was able to talk with them about my whole process and my thinking behind that,” said Schmidt. “And they wound up giving me all the changes.”
Special thanks to Conundrum Comics for research assistance on this article.