Star Trek is a show that once guest-starred a giant white rabbit...
Around here I call easter eggs in comic books ""Little Cool Things." Here's a page from from a recent IDW Star Trek comic. Can you find the Little Cool Thing and explain its possible significance? (Sure you can! I have faith in your intelligence. And Trek geek-knowledge!)
Page from Star Trek: Mission's End #1 (March 2009), script by Ty Templeton, pencils and inks by Stephen Molnar, colors by John Hunt, letters by Neil Uyetake
Obviously this is an early mission of Kirk on the Enterprise, set before "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (Gary Mitchell is still alive; the Starfleet uniforms still have colored collars), so chronologically this takes place previous to The Galileo Seven, the first appearance of the Enterprise's shuttlecraft in the original TV series.
According to Mission's End #1 Sutherland and Niagara are two of the Big E's other shuttles in non-continuity (can we use the term "expanded universe" here, or that solo-ly a Star Wars term?).
Sutherland is (like Enterprise) a ship name with a fine naval tradition: there are three ships of the British Royal Navy that have borne the name H.M.S. Sutherland, ranging from the early 18th century through today. This modern-day frigate was launched in 1996 and is still in service today:
Wow, that's a great but not very dramatic photo. If the Sutherland was starring in a Trek-like series, we'll need a much more theatrical opening shot.
Yeah! That's more like it! Bloody hell we're badass!
There's a canonical Sutherland in Trek history, although this ship appears chronologically after the events in this comic book:
That's the U.S.S. Sutherland, temporarily commanded by Data during one of the ten or twelve Klingon war episodes of TNG (this one was "Redemption II : Klingon Boogaloo."). Sutherland also saw action during the Dominion War on DS9, and is mentioned in other episodes. Onscreen, the Sutherland itself has a cool Little Cool Thing: the motto on her bridge's dedication plaque is "There will be an answer, let it be..." Probably the work of Admiral McCartney, commanding the fleet from U.S.S. Yellow Submarine.
So, maybe the shuttlecraft Sutherland is named after this or the fine RN ships before her. But I'd like to propose a different inspiration for the Sutherland:
This is another H.M.S. Sutherland but a fictional one: it's commanded by Captain Horatio Hornblower, hero of the series of naval adventure novels by C. S. Forester. Hornblower himself called it the ugliest ship of the line in the Royal Navy. During the Napoleonic Wars, Hornblower faces his own personal Kobayashi Maru test: Sutherland has lost her mast and many of his men are killed or wounded. How would James T. Kirk get out of this one? Hornblower, in a move the Kirk of Star Trek III would have understood, surrenders the Sutherland...but, as a demasted wreck, still manages to hold the blockade against the enemy French until reinforcements arrive to batter the French ships. Hornblower might have said "I don't believe in the no-win scenario," but he (as well as the rest of humanity throughout history) was never as cocky as Kirk. Tone it down a li'l, Tiberius!
EDIT: Mr. Ty Templeton, author of this Trek yarn, stops by in our comments to let me know that the Hornblower connection is the correct interpretation. Thanks for the clarification, Ty!)
If my memory serves me, Hikaru Sulu uses the same strategy of surrender to the Klingons during Academy test in the Trek novel Kobayashi Maru. Hmmm, I can definitely picture swashbucklin' Sulu reading the Hornblower novels. Which only goes to prove: it's okay to be Takei.
But there very well could be a third inspiration for the shuttle Sutherland. I'm a big fan of the animated Trek, and if you watch the end credits (from a time in television history when shows had end credits instead of a tiny strip of minuscule credits running at Scalosian-speed), you'll spot the rotating credits of Lou Schimer and Norm Prescott, forever locked in rotation, in their endless battle to be the guy with the credit on top. Hey, you two...let that be your last battlefield!
But in addition to the wheel o' Schimerscott, you'll recognize Hal Sutherland, longtime director of animation at Filmation...and director of the animated Trek series.
Well, sure: I think that the Hornblower novels are probably the most likely inspiration for Mission's End's shuttlecraft Sutherland. That's a Little Cool Thing. But I like to think that maybe Hal Sutherland, who directed episodes that showed us Spock's homeworld, gave us Kirk's middle name, and showed Uhura in command of the Enterprise for once, might have been an inspiration too. At least, in my book he is.
(Pssst: I won't mention that they misspelled "Niagara" if you don't.)