As tie-in comic series go, Star Trek: Year Five is about as prestige as you can get.
IDW Publishing have tapped into an area explored fairly widely in the tie-in novel world over the years – the original Captain James T. Kirk-led five year mission of exploration of The Original Series. There is an alternate universe out there somewhere where Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking series was never cancelled in 1969 after three seasons, and aired for the fourth and fifth year’s of the USS Enterprise’s voyage to seek out new life and new civilisations. Year Five is attempting to capture, on the page, that never seen 1970-1971 season of television – unless you count The Animated Series which purports to be the final two years but is questionable in terms of canon. IDW gave us a Year Four comic over a decade ago but this is only a spiritual sequel, running with the concept of the last year of Kirk’s mission.
The result, even in this first introductory issue, is exciting and fertile ground.
Year Five is all about considering what *could* have been on Star Trek originally as it entered the 1970’s, shot through with a modern storytelling framework.
Writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly—part of a ‘writers room’ IDW have put together for this project—are very much approaching this series from the perspective of it being as official an ‘ending’ to The Original Series as possible for a comic which will never be recognised as ‘canon’; were CBS to make a fourth and fifth season of TOS with new actors and declare it canon, it would immediately invalidate Year Five. Even with the existence of Star Trek: Discovery and a *possible* series revolving around Captain Christopher Pike’s previous five year mission (not announced but don’t bet against it), the prospect of a canonical conclusion to TOS on screen is highly unlikely. Year Five is being approached as the finale we never got – a conclusive ending to Kirk’s mission which helps lay the groundwork for when the crew fully come back together a decade later in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
This is interesting in the context of TOS because the likelihood that Kirk’s crew would have received such an ending back in 1971 is slim to none. Television just didn’t work that way in an era where small screen narrative was designed to be disposable and background. Big series such as The Fugitive or The Prisoner received endings but they were either swift or, in the latter’s case, maddeningly inconclusive. Star Trek could have feasibly seen the final episode of Season 5 have the Enterprise return to Earth and be decommissioned but the chances are Kirk and crew would have sailed off on just another voyage without any concrete resolution. Year Five, in this sense, is providing through the comic book medium a sense of closure through a present day framework in which audiences expect the stories they follow to have an ending and the characters they care about a true sense of narrative resolution.
There is an ominous pallor across the entire first issue given the in media res opening page of Kirk, on the bridge, with a shadowy figure holding a gun to his head, making what he fully expects to be his last Captain’s Log. He doesn’t believe he’s getting out of the five-year mission alive, despite the fact we know differently throughout the story. Kirk learns that upon the Enterprise’s return to Earth, he is being promoted, made an Admiral, but as he confesses to Bones the prospect does not fill him with joy – which of course tracks given how eagerly he relieved Willard Decker during The Motion Picture and how in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he is a middle-aged man yearning for the adventure, excitement and youthful thrill of the days he was in the Captain’s chair. Lanzing and Kelly do a good job of mythologising Kirk and how he sees himself in relation to the Enterprise, a future we know takes place as an Admiral, and quite what it means to undertake a mission of exploration.
Year Five will be a story about Kirk running away from his manifest destiny.
The Original Series, despite being 60’s pulp escapism, was also broadly philosophical in the teleplays it presented. Numerous episodes revolved around Gods, re-creating Greek or Roman pantheons, and saw Roddenberry questioning the very nature of human mythology in relation to the Enterprise’s galactic voyage. Kirk here discusses the power of story, of words, of civilisations passing down knowledge in the oral tradition of history. “It seemed like magic to me. How could one man remember all those words? Spock, sure, but a man of ancient Mesopotamia? Memorising hundreds of pages that he couldn’t even write down?”. Kirk compares himself and his logs to this—making the opening, sombre moment even more powerful—and how he can feel the voyages of the Enterprise passing into legend. Kirk’s journey has been Homeric. He is Odysseus, the five year mission his Odyssey or Epic of Gilgamesh.
It almost seems fitting, therefore, that the Enterprise run up against one of their most enigmatic and unknowable foes, which have become mythologised within the history of Trek themselves – the Tholians. Immortalised in the third season episode The Tholian Web, and subsequently mentioned in sequel TV series and featured in a fair amount of tie-in material, the Tholians are among the most powerful and truly *alien* species that Star Trek has ever developed. It makes their inclusion and a lynchpin to the final year of the mission, and Kirk’s journey, even more interesting – particularly as Kirk seems to be recounting, after the fact, that he will make a decision concerning the Tholians, and a child, that has immense repercussions. We don’t know enough to be sure where this story is precisely going yet but the mystery has been tantalisingly revealed.
Year Five’s first issue is a triumph. The characters are all perfectly on point in terms of dialogue, the artwork from Stephen Thompson and colourist Charlie Kirchoff is quite stunning, and Lanzing & Kelly are already adding meaning, gravitas and mythological weight to a conclusion for The Original Series that could end up as the definitive article.
Star Trek: Year Five #1 is now available from IDW Publishing.
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