Graphic Fiction Reviews

Star Trek
The Classic UK Comics – Part 3

(2017) Dean Mullaney (ed.), IDW, £9.99 / NZ$20.99 / Aus$19.99 /€14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 977-2-397-45403-2


First up, this is actually more of a review of all the volumes of this anthology of British Star Trek comic strips, and not just part 3.

Now then, not many outside the British isles know that Star Trek arrived on BBC television two and three-quarter years after its US debut on 8th September 1966! However, the folk at Paramount had not been idle and, given the show's first year ratings, had been busy licensing the rights for spin-off goods.  In Britain the first to pick up one of these was TV Century 21 who produced the TV Century21 stable of comics (whose stories primarily related to Gerry Anderson sci-fi television shows and which was led by the flagship comic TV Century21 (which later changed name to TV 21.  Within this stable was the comic Joe 90 whose title strip was based on the Joe 90 television series. However the comics Joe 90 and Lady Penelope were very much junior to TV21 and they needed supplementary strips and so it quickly came to pass that Joe 90 included within it a Star Trek sci-fi strip well before the show ever aired in Britain….

And so it was in June 1969, when the first teaser trailers for the BBC's first Star Trek season were broadcast, I was bubbling with anticipation (much to the bemusement of some of my mundane school chums): I was already familiar with Star Trek from the Joe 90 strips!

Yet, because the Joe 90 staff only received the Paramount industrial briefing for Star Trek (the basic set-up, some black & white stills from the first season, and an episode [or possibly two] screen story), when they came to writing and drawing the comic strips they got a few things wrong: such as the Kirk-Spock dynamic, the role of a junior red-shirt, and so forth. Yet we weren't to know as we had not yet seen the series.

And then Star Trek was first screened on BBC on 12th July 1969 and we got to see the show for real albeit in black & white. It became a big hit, British Star Trek conventions began in the mid-1970s (the first rival conventions to the more literary and then cinematic Birmingham Novacons and British Eastercons (and ironically quickly followed by Gerry Anderson Fanderson conventions). Meanwhile, the British comic Star Trek strips continued…

While the British strips became more faithful to the original show after the 1969 summer, they did retain a certain British sci-fi quirkiness. This last possibly due to a number of the strips artists and writers having worked on their own Brit SF strips, not to mention the heritage of classic strips such Dan Dare.

As said, the British Star Trek strips began in the comic Joe 90 but in the early 1970s the huge Gerry Anderson boom (at one point nearly a million copies of TV21 sold in a week) was over and Joe 90 merged with TV 21 and in addition to the Joe 90 strip itself, Star Trek came with it.  Indeed Star Trek was so popular – in part due to it being continually being aired by the BBC (at least one season a year between 1969 and 1981) – that TV21 continued to carry the strip.

Some of the best Star Trek artwork I have seen (by my taste for realism styles) appeared in TV21.  However volume 3 picks up with the final TV21 strips (interesting but not the best) before TV21 died with that comic being subsumed into Valiant. It was only with the Valiant that the Star Trek strips got things like the colour of the Enterprise crew right, but some stories still included some real Star Trek howlers: such as the transporter working at long, interstellar ranges. Also the quality of paper used by the Valient comic was not as good as that of TV21, and the artwork (I feel) suffered. However the stories remain cracking (in part due the howlers) and a good read: I particularly liked the one in which Kirk flies a World War II Wellington bomber as well as a Land of the Giants style adventure.

These volumes represent a treasure of Brit SF comic strip takes on the classic US Trek franchise.  This is Star Trek as you have never quite seen it before.  Wonderful.

Jonathan Cowie

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