Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Star Trek: Debt of Honor, from DC

[Jason Powell continues his Claremont epilogues.]

This one is a relatively short graphic novel (96 pages, I think?) set after Star Trek IV (the whale one), and published around 1992, maybe. (Sorry, these dates are easily found online, I realize, but I’m just kinda cruising through this stuff.)

People who are Claremont fans but not Star Trek fans possibly need not apply to this one. Claremont is very clearly a huge devotee of Star Trek, and this book is in many ways just authorized fan fiction. (But then, that is true of a lot of the licensed Star Trek stuff, really.)

On the other hand, if you’re a Trek fan (which I am), this is great fun. The gimmick here is that at key moments in Star Trek history (which we are shown in sequential flashbacks), Captain Kirk had multiple encounters with the same species of hostile alien. But so shrewd were these creatures that they were always able to cover their tracks, and Kirk has never been able to prove that these guys exist, or convince anyone that they pose a credible threat. (We learn that they inhabit another dimension, much like the limbo demons and N’Garai in X-Men, which is an idea I liked so much I pinched it for my musical, “Invader? I Hardly Know Her.”)

The only other person who knows about these aliens is another starship captain: Basically a female equivalent of Kirk (of course!) who also happens to be a Romulan. Kirk goes rogue to team up with both her and a Klingon captain (whom I think Claremont made up, although he might be from an old “Trek” episode …) to take down these aliens once and for all.

The fan-fictional elements include cameos by a ton of old Trek characters, an explanation for why Klingons used to have smooth foreheads and now don’t (years before “Enterprise” offered a different explanation; I like Claremont’s better). And I think there is at least one Mary Sue in this book as well. (Not being an expert on original Trek, I have trouble distinguishing the cameos of canonical characters from the Claremont originals … there are a LOT of people who turn up here.)

Oh, and there is also a reference to “Cat’s Laughing,” a band whose members Claremont is personal friends with, and who also have cameos in issues of Claremont’s “Excalibur” series in 1988. Claremont likes to link his different stories via musicians.

Despite all the indulgences, though, this is a tight adventure story, a great example of intelligent and rousing space opera. The artwork here is by human dynamo Adam Hughes (with inks by Karl Story), which means that the evil other-dimensional aliens are suitably terrifying, and the sexy Romulan captain is suitably gorgeous. Just visually alone, this is a beautiful package, but the intelligent story is what makes it worth the read. Plus, Claremont writes an awesome Spock. In another universe, a movie adaptation of this book would have made a spectacular Star Trek V or VI, and a much better final adventure for the original crew.

Sometime later, Claremont contributed a story to an issue of DC’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” comic series (one of the annuals), wherein a teenage ensign from Debt of Honor (very Kitty Pryde-esque) comes back – now much older, of course – and resolves a semi-dangling thread from the original graphic novel. The details are fuzzy in my memory, though I think they involve the woman – a human -- getting adopted by a Klingon house, which leads to her crossing paths with Worf, a Klingon adopted by humans.

I guess you could call it an epilogue to “Debt of Honor.” It’s a well-written piece, with a very satisfying ending, although I don’t think it would make even the tiniest impression on anyone who hadn’t already read “Debt.” But it is a great little addendum. I personally would have preferred a full-length sequel to “Debt” set in the Next Generation era, but perhaps that was not viable.

17 comments:

Richard Melendez said...

Thanks for the extended examination of Claremont's work! I have to ask... what was his explanation for the Klingon's varying forehead designs? I'm no Trekkie, so I had to check Wikipedia for the canonical explanation. Just wondering what the alternate take was...
-r-

Jeff said...

I have one bone to pick with this review: Star Trek VI was an awesome final adventure for the crew. Christopher Plummer knocks it out of the park as the villain, the political machinations are great and it establishes Spock as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes(!). In fact, it's one of the best movies in the series!

I do want to read this one out of curiosity. Although, Jason, your review was the only positive one I could find for the book...

Gabriel said...

Hi, I’m from Argentina.

Jason: Love your analysis. Love Claremont writing style (with his ups and downs). Love Star Trek TOS. And love this graphic novel …and it’s really hard to find people who like this one, don’t know why. For me, this comic proves that Trek can mix lots of action with philosophy, decades before the Abrams movie.

The art by Hughes and Story is amazing!

I read somewhere that a graphic novel sequel to DOH was in Claremont mind for some years, but never materialize, maybe it was the time he return to Marvel.

What’s next? Aliens/Predator The Deadliest of the Species?

Matt Jacobson said...

Hey Jason;

I know you originally said you weren't going to, but now that you're done with the bulk of the work you seem to be picking up new steam with some of Claremont's other stuff. So, any chances of a look at his 1999/2000 "Revolution" X-Men run? I re-read all the issues recently myself and they actually weren't bad. A lot of what got called an incomprehensible mess a decade ago was some very Grant Morrison-ish "let the audience figure it out from context clues" plot motion (and the clues are there).

Teebore said...

Though I haven't read this and I forget the exact details of Claremont's Klingon explanation, I remember liking it when I heard it more than the official (such as anything is official with Trek fiction) explanation as well.

@Jeff: Siskoid (of Sikoid's Blog of Geekery) gave this a (relatively) positive review, though he has the usual criticisms of Claremont you see on the net (too wordy, familiar tropes, etc.).

Check it out here

Robyrt said...

Out of curiosity, is this the canonical female Romulan Kirk-equivalent from "The Enterprise Incident," or an entirely new character?

I am reminded of Diane Duane's Star Trek books, which also feature Kirk going rogue and teaming up with a feisty female Romulan version of himself, except instead of explaining Klingon foreheads it explains why Romulans turned from evil Vulcans into petty schemers.

Jason said...

Gabriel,
Thanks for reading! FYI, there is already a blog about "Deadliest of the Species," right here: http://geoffklock.blogspot.com/2010/09/post-1991-claremont-part-1.html

Richard, the Klingon explanation in "Debt of Honor" (explained much more eloquently in the book itself than I am capable of): Basically Claremont's idea is that there are two races of Klingon -- the smooth-heads and the bumpy-heads (note: NOT official terminology). Back in Kirk's day, the smooth-heads were politically ascendant, and basically kept the bumpy heads down. They were "The Man," as far as Klingons were concerned.

Then there was a political paradigm shift, and the bumpy-heads became the movers and shakers.

Menshevik said...

Jason -
"Debt of Honour" is definitely one of my favourites. It is an incredible tour de force where as in the X-Men Chris Claremont demonstrates a near-encyclopedic knowledge of past continuity. I'm not enough of a Trekkie to make a definite statement, but from my knowledge of matters Star Trek it seems to me that all characters are either directly taken from the Original Series, the first four movies, as well as possibly some of the novels and/or comics, or they are relatives of such characters. Kor, the Klingon captain, was actually the first Klingon to appear in the original series, and the Romulan captain also is a quite famous one (she is, IIRC, only known as "the Romulan commander" or something like that because she was never named in the episode she appeared in) because she was probably the only female starship commander in the series. But her name T'cel and her back story are Claremont's, as is her daughter.

Could the fan-fic-esque flavour of this story, which spans the length (in time) and breadth (in cast) of the Star Trek universe, have something to do with the fact that the graphic novel was produced shortly before Star Trek's Silver Jubilee year 1993?

Richard -
Chris Claremont's explanation was that the Klingons with smooth and non-smooth foreheads belong to two different races, and that the dominance shifted from one to the other due to events that happened between the first and second movie.

Menshevik said...

It seems I was wrong about a lot of what I said. T'cel apparently is not the Romulan commander, and a lot of the characters appear to be named after Star Trek creators and such. Here's a link:

http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Debt_of_Honor#Characters

Jason said...

Jeff,
I'll agree to disagree re: Star Trek VI. I'm not a fan.

Matt,
It sounds pretty certain that the 1999-2000 Claremont X-Men issues will be reviewed here on "Remarkable," but not by me.

Robyrt,
I had no idea that "female Romulan Kirk equivalent" was so common. I guess I gave Claremont too much credit on that aspect of the story. Per that Siskoid's Blog of Geekery review -- which I see, awesomely -- has a detailed account of which episodes and films are referenced in "Debt of Honor" -- the Romulan captain in "Debt" (called T'Cel) is a Claremont creation, not from any previous Trek story. What a helpful little link that is, for which ...

... Teebore, thank you!

Menshevik said...

According to that website, the hardcover version came out in July and the paperback version in December 1992.

Jason said...

Mensh,

You are not so far off. Check out Teebore's link.

Menshevik said...

Hump(h), that Siskoid. Can't even tell the difference between a sperm whale and a humpback. Sperm whales have teeth, humpbacks don't, Moby Dick was a sperm whale, the whales in ST4 were humpbacks, get it?

So it does seem to be a 25th-anniversary project. Which would explain the half-silver cover.

What I also liked was Chris Claremont's dedication, which showed that he's not just a Trek fan: it is to Scott Hampson (creator of Dan Dare), Robert A. Heinlein and Bonnie (Wilford?).

But definitely lovely art by Adam Hughes in particular

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

in the scene on pp. 86 and 87 where a certain character talks with Kirk and you suddenly see the resemblance.

Menshevik said...

This is just not my day - another correction is in order the third dedication was to Beth (Beth Fleisher, his wife). Well, the faulty one was the 13th post here...

Jason said...

A great moment at the end of "Debt of Honor," which probably would cause some people to groan, but which I think is brilliant is Kirk and Gillian sharing a bottle of wine at the end. Gillian says, "This [the wine] is excellent," and Kirk says, "It's a Picard."

hcduvall said...

I just wanted to take this post as an opportunity to point out that there's a novel called Planet X that's a crossover of the Next Generation crew and the X-Men.

And anytime I've read any of it, it kind of boggles my mind.

Jason said...

There was also a comic-book where the X-Men met the original crew. Drawn by Marc Silvestri!

It's pretty silly, though there is a good gag where one of the nurses shouts, "Dr. McCoy!" and both Bones and the Beast turn and say, "What?" in unison.

(I don't recall if there are any references to the Trek episode "Charlie X." If not, there should have been.)