On Gold Key’s Guardian of Forever (in Star Trek Vol. 1 #56)

On Monday, we talked about Gold Key’s Star Trek #1 from 1967, which had the ship exploring the dead Galaxy Alpha, then systematically eradicating the one planet it found with life one it. Oh yeah, there was some implied tentacle rape and vore.

Not all the Gold Key Star Trek comics are that dumb, but they’re rarely all that smart. They focus more on entertainment, on the imaginative, over well-structured stories. They do hew closer to the original show, as time goes on — there’s no “Galaxy Alpha” nonsense in later issues.

Star Trek (Gold Key) #56Near the end of the series, a few issues even told stories that featured characters and elements from TV episodes. The most memorable is probably issue #56 (“No Time Like the Past,” Oct 1978), which features the Guardian of Forever — the time portal, built by an unknown ancient species, from the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” This wasn’t the Guardian of Forever’s second appearance, however; it had already been used in the animated “Yesteryear” (generally regarded as the finest animated episode). It had also appeared in a short story in the 1976 prose anthology, Star Trek: New Voyages. Nonetheless, the Guardian’s usage in the comic is fairly unique.

Star Trek (Gold Key) #56 panelThe story features a planetary dictator, named Trengur, who uses the Guardian to alter Earth history. Inexplicably, he’s also able to bounce around in time, altering period after period until he becomes Earth’s dictator.

This makes no sense, since he’d presumably have to return through the Guardian and then use it again each time he jumps to a new period of Earth’s history. Then again, the original Guardian makes no sense either — in the original episode, Kirk and Spock simply return through it, with no explanation of how they’d do so, since there’s no standing portal in the past. The comic at least improves this, suggesting there is such a portal, tied to a cave’s entrance — not exactly smart, nor applicable to every Guardian time-voyage, but at least an attempt to solve a logical problem inherent to the Guardian, even as the comic creates new ones.

The basic plot of “No Time Like the Past” is simple. After a failed attempt to stop Trengur on his first trip to Earth’s past, Kirk, Spock, and Bones discover that Trengur went on to make all those other time jumps, so they simply try again, this time capturing Trengur on his first trip — before he alters history.

There’s certainly a joy to seeing Trengur’s various visits into the past. The first, which gets the first (flash-forward) page and the most time in the story, involves helping Hannibal defeat Rome. Others involve helping the British win what we regard as the American Revolution — and helping the Nazis conquer North America. It’s not entirely clear why this should be necessary, in order to establish Trengur’s dictatorship, but it’s cool stuff nonetheless.

Star Trek (Gold Key) #56 panelWhat’s cooler is that, between the two attempts to stop Trengur from helping Hannibal, our three protagonists return to an altered future, in which they learn about these other changes to Earth’s past. In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” when the past is altered, the crew finds that the Enterprise is no longer in orbit — the Federation no long exists. In “No Time Like the Past,” the Enterprise is there, but it now belongs to the evil Earthfleet, not Starfleet. There is a Starfleet, however, but Earth isn’t a member — Terra Minor, populated by refugees from Trengur’s dictatorial Earth, is a member instead.

It’s all highly reminiscent of the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror,” except that this evil Enterprise isn’t in an alternate universe but an alternate timeline, which has replaced the one we know and love. There’s even rivalry on board this evil Enterprise, with Scotty playing the role the bearded Spock played in “Mirror, Mirror” — and distrusting our displaced protagonists.

Not nearly enough is done with all of this, despite members of Earthfleet giving the Nazi salute and some drama over the Earthfleet Enterprise being present as part of a scheme to use the Guardian to plant bombs that will decimate Starfleet. There are only 22 pages to the story, and so much of it is filled with time-travel that this Earthfleet business is reduced to a few pages. The story ends, typical of Gold Key stories, with a laugh — here produced by the good Scotty objecting to the protagonists’ Earthfleet costumes.

the final panel of Star Trek (Gold Key) #56Despite the story’s failings, it’s filled with promise, and it represents one of the best Gold Key Trek stories, in opposition to the first issue, published over a decade earlier.

After only five more issues, Gold Key would lose the Star Trek license to Marvel. (A script and some page breakdowns for the never-published issue #62 have circulated online.) The Star Trek franchise was headed into movie theaters, spurred (like so many sci-fi franchises at the time) by the success of Star Wars.

It wasn’t simply the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Star Trek stories would be altered by the movies, which told more epic, high-stakes stories. The kind of episodic comics Gold Key produced for a dozen years would similarly begin to give way to the preference in comics for extended storylines. For all of the failings of Gold Key’s Star Trek, it’s beloved by many Star Trek fans — and its raw, episodic nature reflects the original series perhaps more than we may think today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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2 Comments

  1. I feel a little geeky for diving into minutia here, but your discussion about how Kirk and Spock go back through the portal sent me scurrying through my books for the published edition of Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay. Since much of Ellison’s original story was changed, I wondered if maybe he had dealt with the mechanics of going back.

    Alas, the logistics of returning through the Guardian are mostly skimmed over, replaced with a poetic set of dissolves–images of Kirk’s face, a star, and the Enterprise, before Kirk, Spock, and Beckwith (the Doctor McCoy figure in the original story) re-emerge. Much of Ellison’s idea focuses on the fact that every era has a “key” and that people who travel back will be drawn to that key. So when Edith dies, the key is gone and time is restored. Presumably, they are then simply drawn back to their original time. (It’s so hard not to say “transported” back to their original time.)

    The one notable difference is that when Kirk, Spock, and Beckwith re-emerge, Kirk and Spock are still in period dress, which perhaps makes a little more sense than the final, filmed version. Then again, if they are just magically being restored, why not restore their clothing as well? Anyway . . .

    This article makes me curious about the Gold Key run. I’ve never read any of them. Given how many of them there are, I wish someone would publish a “Best of” sampler trade with 8-10 highlight stories.

    • That’s some awesome research there, Greg! I’ve always been annoyed by this little thing in the Guardian stories.

      The Gold Key stuff has been collected, though not in a “Best of” to my knowledge. There were 61 issues (no annuals or specials), though a small number were reprints.

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