Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Sulu Can't Drive Warp Five

Consider (if you will) all the things that Star Wars gave us and made a permanent part of pop culture. Neurotic robots, lightsaber battles, the idea that tanks could be built with four legs, and midicholrians. Well, they can't all be winners. But for every minor innovation like blue milk (and I can't understand why Lucas hasn't licensed that to be sold in stores already), there's a genre-busting breakthrough like this—really really fast spaceships.

In era-BANH (Before A New Hope), we saw spaceships as oversized and ponderously slow: the Pan Am Space Clipper and the Aries 1B Earth-Moon shuttle of 2001, the Dark Star (from the movie of the same name, of course), the Valley Forge from Silent Running, the United Planets Cruiser C57-D of Forbidden Planet. Even Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon, for all its here's ship-in-your-eye technology, slowly floats back down to earth after it falls off a moon cliff just in time to escape the threatening moon men. Star Wars cranked up the speed, slammed Han Solo's pedal to the metal and showed us just how mind-breakingly cool it was to zip into hyperspace. Remember how awesome that effect was the first time you saw it?

But now, everybody does it. Including Star Trek.

But: we didn't see this type of speed and maneuverability in the original Star Trek series. Until the debut of 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture That Goes On and On and On and On and On and On..., we didn't see the effects of the Enterprise going into hyperspace. It was even later that we saw Trek's ships behave with the speed and manueverability of Star Wars, in the battle scenes against the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact and versus the Dominion in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Aside from a few sped-up fly-bys and the opening credits, the original Enterprise, even at the occasional impossible speed (warp 14.1 in ""That Which Survives," warp 36 in the animated series's "The Counter-Clock Incident"), moved gracefully but slowly across your color TV screen.

But there was one place in the sixties that the U.S.S. Enterprise pulled off not only amazing speed but also extremely tight and elaborate spiral patterns: in the Gold Key Star Trek #6.

Yes, yes, I know that cover photo comes from "Amok Time," and this story has nothing to do with that. Hold on...let me adjust this a little...

There, that's better.

Stardate: 1969! Space hooligans have put cherry bombs in the warp engines of the Enterprise! Oh, there'll be trouble tonight when Scotty catches up with them!

Panels from Star Trek #6 (December 1969), script by Dick Wood, pencils and inks by Alberto Giolitti

Actually, you can't blame Italian artist Alberto Giolitti for the rocket-blasting engines of his comic book Enterprise: he was working from stills and production art like this cover art by James Bama (Doc Savage) used by Bantam for the first of its Trek novelizations by James Blish:

It's famously said that Giolitti never saw a single episode of Star Trek, even while working on the franchise. That's okay, neither did Fred Freiberger. (Zing!)

So: Stardate Danger! The Enterprise has detected two planetoids on a collision course. Upon beaming down, Kirk and his away team landing party discover each world is populated with an underground-dwelling civilization. Well, the heck with the Prime Directive, then! The Enterprise must save these inconveniently-located heavy metal planets! (That's "heavy metal" as in "composed of heavy metal," not populated by members of the bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Mötorhead...as awesome as that would be.

Kirk immediately snaps into action and orders DEEP GALAXY PENETRATION! Well, of course he does.

And this is where Sulu's dream comes true. The Enterprise warps blasts into high speed, moving so swiftly that it almost immediately proves Einstein's theory of relativity by duplicating itself in the next panel. That's two, two, two paychecks for Bill Shatner!

In fact, Sulu's racing the ol' 1701 so speedily that her plating shreds off. Either that, or Scotty used transparent aluminum to repair the Enterprise after the last issue. (He knows the guy who invented it.) Also, he left the shuttlecraft doors open. But to heck with it, there's metal planets to save!

Scotty tosses out an assortment of giant tribbles while Sulu does donuts around the Giant Space Egg of the Great Bird of the Galaxy! I think.

If that wasn't enough showing off his high-speed piloting skills, Sulu wraps the Enterprise around a highly magnetic asteroid in a double spiral pattern, causing the ship to audibly go "swooosh bzzzzzz!" and Chekov to throw up and then claim that womiting is a Russian inwention.

Spock makes a mental note to remind his Captain that the Enterprise is equipped with "tractor beams" and "phasers," not "magnetic mesh" and "cannons." Spock had to spend a lot of time making corrections, and apologies, for Jim Kirk.

Sulu fires up the secondary hull rockets (probably immediately killing everyone in engineering, but hey, you cannot put a price in human lives on exciting space action like this! Towing the big magnetic asteroid behind them has a few negative effects: Sulu spends so much time looking in the rear-view mirror that he doesn't notice he's piloting the Enterprise directly into a meteor storm, and everybody's credit cards get blanked.

Look carefully at this next panel and notice it looks like the meteors have little faces with big black eyes and big smiley mouths. Once you've seen this, you can't unsee it. They're dive-bombing the Enterprise and going wheeeeeeeeee like that Geico pig all the way down!

Luckily, the magnetic personality of the asteroid persuades the kamikaze meteors to move in a different direction...look, I don't understand it any more than you do. About this time in the TV series there would be a commercial, wouldn't there? For Kirk, it's time for a piping hot delicious barrel of coffee! If she was the one to carry that onto the bridge, no wonder Janice Rand quit.

Just to show off how smart he is, Spock immediately breaks out the New York Times crossword puzzle (the Sunday one, at that) and solves it while he's computing the time they have left to complete the maneuver and/or for the dramatic music to finish up. Unusually, he's giving the calculation in "galaxy minutes," which are like regular minutes, except with more space in between them. Also, he has filled in the answer to 17-Across, "Cancelled 1960s TV series (8 letters)," as "Batmannn."

Ah ha! Now we seen the brilliant of Spock's scheme. Towing the magnetic asteroid in between the two planets will push them apart like a greased pig on the set of Hee Haw! This scientific principle is supported by the work of Newton, Galileo, and, as shown in her revered scientific treatise "Opposites Attract," Professor Paula Abdul.

Hooray! It worked! Hopefully, with a big loud BOING sound effect. Spock looks out the window and theorizes that the two planets have nothing to worry about aside from the globe-wide earthquakes, floods, fire, death, devastation, and horror. But we'll leave that for the Federation to clean up...it's time to warp off to our next adventure on The Planet of the Space Vixens! (Shatner had this specifically written into his contract.)

Special Bonus Panels!: Witness Kirk, Spock, and the blonde Scotty trapped on the planet of WHAM-O's Super-Elastic Bubble Plastic!

And here's Blonde Scotty reacting to something surprising (I dunno, maybe a Horta or a Mugato or a Salt Vampire or a Narwhal) with a traditional Scots expression of surprise!

In the same spirit of "fixing" the cover of Star Trek #6, I took it as my Prime Directive to meddle in the affairs of a less-advanced comic book and make it better by substituting more familiar Star Trek phrases for "Be-Bejabbers" (which I think is the name of a giant space slug in that Star Wars movie I was talking about earlier. There's the familiar:

...or maybe I'll try a phrase that didn't seem at home in the green-tinted mouth of Spock, what with his Vulcan uvula and all:

Let's try it with an infamous line from a movie that didn't make much sense anyway:

I'm really not certain what Scotty's pointing at in the first place. What that heck is that thing, anyway?

Make your own and post 'em for everybody to enjoy, won't you?

Star Trek, won't you?


SallyP said...

Womiting may not be a Russian Inwention...but by God, they did perfect it.

Hilarious as usual, Bully.

Rip Jagger said...

These old Gold Key Treks are wonderful and fresh takes on a franchise that has become overwrought and underwhelming over the decades.

Thanks for the peek.

Rip Off

Wriphe said...

I like the classic Scottish phrase "Be-Bejabbers" so much, I'm adding it to my personal vocabulary!

Sphinx Magoo said...

Last time I heard anyone say "bejabbers" was on the old Dave the Barbarian TV show...

Will said...

Did these guys write the Star Trek reboot, if they did it appears their talents have degraded