Summer Break

Hate to leave you on yet another cliff hanger, but I’m taking a little summer break. See you in two weeks! Don’t let the gamma rays of Proxima Centauri give you too bad of a sunburn.

Spring Break!

Spring is sprung. The cherry trees are blooming. The kids are out of school. It’s Purim/Holi/that goyishe holiday with the rabbit. The comic is at a nice cliffhanger, so it’s a perfect time to take off for a week. We’ll be back on April 5th, 2019. Enjoy the warming weather!

Great Mother of the Egg!

“Great Mother of the Egg!”, the excited exclamation yelped by Acting Lieutenant Young in last Friday’s strip, was an expletive uttered by Romulan Ambassador Bendes in the Peter Pan Star Trek record, “In Vino Veritas”. I’m guessing it’s a reference to the fact that Romulans like birds. It was written by Alan Dean Foster who later wrote the final storyline for “The Motion Picture”.

Was Captain Kirk That Enlightened?

The Mary Sue recently put up an article chastising William Shatner for so-called un-Kirk-like views regarding the #MeToo movement. I’ve chided Shatner myself on the subject and have been banned from his Twitter feed for doing so. The part of The Mary Sue’s article that annoyed me, though, was the Kirk/Shatner comparison. Ever since Erin Horáková’s essay “Kirk Drift” there’s been a new movement to beatify James T. Kirk as some kind of über-woke bae who slaps down misogyny at every turn. But what kind of feminist was Kirk really?

Horáková’s main piece of evidence is the excellent job Kirk does mentoring young Charles Evans of the Original Series episode “Charlie X” on sexual consent. Written by Dorothy Fontana, it features Kirk telling the kid not to force his affection on women and never put his hands on them without permission. He is not owed their attention. Considering the “boys will be boys” attitude many still have today, the speech seems downright radical for the late 1960’s. But did Kirk practice what he preached?

The fact is Kirk was, in many cases, a pig. I’m not here to bash Kirk’s general libido. We at the comic approve of and encourage physical love often and in all combinations. And, as Horáková points out, Kirk’s serious exes are all brilliant, professional women who still respect him with only a few exceptions. But what we see in action is a different Kirk, one that crosses a lot of professional lines and has a general disdain for female opponents.

Let’s start with the work place stuff. The first glimpse we get of the Kirk/Rand relationship is in “Corbomite Maneuver” Kirk is extremely rude to Rand and complains to McCoy about having a “female yeoman” forced on him. The implication on the part of both men is that Kirk is not trustable alone with a woman, even a subordinate.

Not long after, in “Enemy Within” we get the ugly side of Kirk’s lust where we’re shown that at least part of him is, in fact, capable of assaulting his assistant. After Rand is attacked by Evil Kirk, Good Kirk confronts her directly in front of Spock and McCoy who all gaslight her into believing it didn’t happen at all. Only the corroboration of a male witness makes Spock and McCoy take the accusation seriously. And even then they come up with the flummoxing idea that it’s an intruder, an assumption not yet borne out by the evidence they have so far.

Topping off the Rand weirdness, Kirk actually pulls her into an embrace on the bridge during a tense moment in “Balance of Terror”. From an erotic/dramatic stand point this is pure red meat for the audience, but from a real world, professional one it’s pretty unacceptable. Oddly enough prospective script writers were told this exact behavior was a no-no in the 1968 book “The Making of Star Trek”.

Rand isn’t the only female crew member who is the object of Kirk’s misplaced horn-dogging and general disrespect. In “Who Mourns for Adonais” Kirk and McCoy ruminate about what a waste Lt. Palamas is because female officers are bound to leave the service to start a family. To this day that’s an argument used in offices and academia to enforce the glass ceiling. In both this episode and “The Lights of Zetar” Kirk allows Scotty to harass an underling even thought they’re clearly not interested. He seems to even find it cute. In “The Immunity Syndrome” Kirk talks about how great it will be to take shore leave “on some lovely planet” while leering at a female crew member with McCoy and Scotty. After dealing with the Mirror version of Marlena Moreau, Kirk implies to Spock that he’s going to hit on the one in our universe. He then walks over to her and possibly does just that as the credits roll. “Wolf in the Fold” starts with Kirk and his male senior staff at a belly dancing parlor and ends with him inviting them to go to a club “where the women are sooooo…!” This is after witnessing several women, including a member of his own crew, get brutally murdered.

It actually gets worse when Kirk leaves the ship. Sometimes he’s just plain inappropriate with the natives like when he falls in lust with the ward of the one guy who can save his crew from a virulent disease in “Requiem for Methuselah” or when he sleeps with a sex slave that’s offered to him in “Bread and Circuses”. Then there’s that time he says the Federation will just have to “find another woman somewhere” to replace Ambassador Nancy Hedford when they’re forced to leave her behind in “Metamorphosis”. More often than not the captain uses his sexuality as a weapon against female opponents. How about that time Kirk forces the robot Andrea to kiss him so hard he leaves marks on her arms in “What are Little Girls Made of”? Or when he tries to win the affections of Sylvia, Shahna, Kelinda, and Deela in order to defeat them? Kirk never tried to seduce Kor or Rojan or Anan 7, so he’s either too much of a homophobe to take that kind of one for the team or he simply thinks there’s something specifically naive about women that will make them give up everything for his D.

And then let’s never, ever forget the unforgivably grotesque time Kirk asked Dr. Miranda Jones, point-blank, what a pretty thing like her is doing spending her life with an uggo like Kollos in “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”. It’s interesting yet unsurprising to note that this episode, with its deconstruction of Kirk as an insecure lothario and its example of murderous male entitlement as seen in Lawrence Marvick, was, in fact, written by a woman.

There’s no doubt that if Kirk was real he would be rightfully #MeTooed out of his command. But Kirk isn’t real. He’s a character. And we don’t have to approve of everything a character does to be entertained by them. We don’t have to be politically aligned with everything a TV show is putting across in order to watch it week after week. But we also can’t be blind to its faults and unsound messages. “Is There in Truth No Beauty” proves that even at the time Star Trek was airing women were seeing Kirk as problematic. He was a liberal guy who constantly strove for a better tomorrow, but when it came to women’s issues he fell way short. Trying to make him into a feminist icon is not helping anyone.

Merry Christmas — Comic Will Resume in the New Year

Hope you all are making spirits bright in whatever manner you love best. The comic will resume on January 8th, 2019. Oddly enough, it’s a completely hilarious coincidence that Delos Reyes is incapacitated in a cliffhangery way every time we go on break. Enjoy the rest of the holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving – No Comic This Week

Isn’t it maddening when things end on a cliffhanger? At least you have some burnt bird meat to tide you over until next Tuesday. Or just get drunk and space out like Bev up there. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Myth of the “No Conflict” Rule

There’s no doubt Gene Roddenberry was a kook with bizarre ideas about the future of humanity. One only has to read his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and you really should) to get a glimpse of concepts like evolved humans forming empathic communes, Starfleet being made up of barbarous, primitive throwbacks, and teenage “love instructors”. And that’s just the prologue.

But the most talked about aspect of Gene’s crazy future people is the “no conflict” rule he imposed on the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This rule has been reported multiple times by various people who worked on the show, like David Gerrold, Rick Berman, Maurice Hurley, and Ira Steven Behr. The latter even proposed Deep Space Nine specifically as a way to get around the rule. The oft repeated story goes that Gene thought 24th century humans were so evolved they didn’t fight amongst themselves. This meant no disagreements or incompatible personalities. All conflict had to come from outside the ship.

The “no conflict” rule gets lots of play in the media and was talked about quite a bit when Star Trek: Discovery came out. Some journalists accused the rule of stifling the older shows. Some used it as a way to prove Discovery was not real Star Trek. How could they have interpersonal disagreements on that show? Gene was against that! The problem with all this editorial hand wringing was that any one who actually watched early Next Generation at the height of Gene’s control over the series could easily see there was no such rule. At least not in the form that is constantly reported. The 24th century was brimming with human-on-human conflict.

Many of you know I spent a year chronicling Gene’s non-Star Trek work in 1970’s and how they influenced and, at times, directly fed into The Next Generation. One thing that became undeniable was Gene’s expert ability to create conflict through contrasting personalities whether it’s the wily Dylan Hunt butting heads with the pragmatic PAX in Genesis II, the robotic Questor grating on the all too human Jerry Robinson in The Questor Tapes, or the X-Files prototype of superstitious William Sebastian and his skeptic partner Amos Hamilton in Spectre. The stories may be of varying quality, but the drama between characters was always a joy. This was something Gene loved to do. He knew good television depended on it. There was no way his new Star Trek show would lack it.

If we go by The Next Generation’s first two seasons and, especially, the pilot we can find a lot of interpersonal conflict baked right in:

Picard vs Riker

This is the biggest one and caused such an uproar in the fan community at the time due to its break with The Original Series’s captain-at-the-center dynamic that it’s a wonder we all forgot about it. The Enterprise D is less the Original Enterprise and more a traditional imperial naval ship. The old man stays up in the command center while the XO goes out in the field and gets into trouble. Riker was constantly described in promotional materials and interviews as believing the Enterprise was his ship. He just let Picard steer it from time to time. This was a constant source of annoyance for Picard who was, until recently, the swashbuckler of his own tin can of a ship. He often had to force himself into the center of things, much to Riker’s dismay. Riker was also very personable, while Picard was mostly an aloof jerk who literally muttered “shit” to himself when things didn’t go his way.

Picard vs Families

The concept of bringing families on a space voyage didn’t make sense to a lot of fans and writers because the show totally went off the rails concerning it’s original “generation ship” concept right after the pilot. Families on a ship doing routine patrol not far outside known space is stupid, but a city ship bound for a twenty year mission in the “great unexplored mass of the galaxy” is another thing. Picard was the ultimate confirmed bachelor. He didn’t understand families and resented their presence on his ship. This put him at odds with Dr. Crusher and her kid, whom he referred to as “the boy” and even told to “shut up” once. Riker was asked to be a mediator between him and the civilian crew so he could avoid them altogether.

Picard vs The Crushers

Besides the fact that Beverly was a breeder, these two had quite a bit to enrage each other over. First there was their immediate sexual chemistry which butted against the fact that Picard practically left her possibly hysterical husband, Jack, to die on a mission. Weasley Crusher took two seasons to fully get over his resentment of the captain. Picard’s callous utilitarianism was also the cause of quite a few heated ethical disputes with the fiery redheaded doctor who was always keen to deliver aid and comfort in even the most hostile environments and sticky situations.

Yar vs Picard

Before Worf wanted to shoot everything, Tasha Yar wanted to shoot everything. Quick on the trigger, Yar’s violent tendencies were constantly being shot down and soothed over by Picard and even Riker.

Riker vs Data

Data annoyed everyone in the first two seasons, rambling off facts and minutia until he received many a disgruntled outburst. Telling Data to shut up in one way or another was a more frequent event than it was with “the boy”. Riker’s initial mistrust of Data’s artificiality in the pilot is so strong Data actually calls him a bigot. “Prejudice is very human,” he tells the commander, flying in the face of everything we’ve been told Roddenberry felt about his crew.

Troi vs Riker

It’s clear the moment these two meet that they have a troubled history. Troi speaks to Riker telepathically in a way we’re all sure he can hear, but he refuses to respond. She’s down for being friends with crazy benefits. He wants the loving intimacy a ship’s captain can never know. This is made even more obvious in D.C. Fontana’s “Encounter at Farpoint” plot outline, but the bones of it still linger through episodes like “Haven”.

Troi vs Everyone

Troi’s original concept and the way the character was mostly written in the first season was to be the new Spock. Even though she could read and parse other people’s feelings she didn’t care much about them nor did she have many of her own. Troi was blunt with her advice and would often call out fellow crew members on how their words contradicted their hidden emotions right to their faces. And she often did it in front of an audience. At one point she tells everyone Yar wants to bone a world leader leaving the tactical officer stammering to qualify her unprofessional horn dogging.

Pulaski vs Picard

Picard never gets along with his medical officers. He either wants to pound them or pound their faces. Pulaski was exclusively the latter. While she sneakingly admired Picard and requested the Enterprise as an assignment, she goes out of her way to test his authority.

Pulaski vs Data

Pulaski doesn’t trust technology, so, obviously, she hates Data on first contact. While her respect for him grows a bit over the course of the second season, she’s his biggest foil most likely taking on the role Riker would have played if he had stayed true to character. Pulaski is interesting in that she was created specifically by Roddenberry for a specific actress he’d worked with twice before making the ruckus she causes a direct result of Gene. It’s also interesting that the character who brought the most amount of oh-so-coveted conflict to the show is the most polarizing among fans. (I love her, so nyah!)

Geordi vs Some Engineer

“Arsenal of Freedom” introduces a trope The Next Generation used a couple of times: that of the higher ranking but less talented officer trying to wrest control from the spunky greenhorn who was placed in command in a crisis. If you want an example of full blown hostility among the Enterprise crew Geordi telling Engineer Gumby #10 to step off is one of the most blatant.

Yar vs The Federation

Tasha Yar may love the Federation so much she’ll kick you in the face over it, but she’s a constant reminder of it’s failures. At some point the modern, perfect humans of Turkana IV descended into a mass of roving gang rapists that this poor kid and her cat had to escape from. And, to top it off, the enlightened Federation didn’t do a thing about it even though the Prime Directive probably doesn’t apply to its own colonies.

Remmick vs The Enterprise Crew

Proving even Starfleet types outside of the Enterprise were not above squabbling, Remmick was a JAG officer brought in to interrogate the Enterprise crew about all the weirdness they experienced over the course of the first season. Never in the history of the show have so many wanted to punch one single nose. Well, maybe Barclay.

So, there was conflict on The Next Generation. Lots of it. And all of it was put there directly by Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana. Looking at the 1987 writer’s guide Gene stated not only that his crew was made up of flawed humans, but that stories should be writen with a personal aspect that could be based on the nature of the characters. Somehow we’ve been told that it wasn’t the case and it was Gene’s fault so often we started ignoring our own eyes. There’s a moment on the documentary Chaos on the Bridge where Maurice Hurley blusters that Gene had handcuffed him with this very “no conflict” rule and then wasn’t as committed to it as Hurley himself was. This comment baffles me. Hurley complains he wanted to write conflict. He says Gene wanted conflict. Why were they not happily creating conflict?

If we go back to the ’87 writer’s guide there is a section on “no melodrama”. This means “no petty conflict”: no fighting over money or personal gain, no soap opera type love triangles, and no bickering over how someone cut in front of you in line to the replicator. Arguments between the crew needed to be believable, because to Gene believability was everything. How in the world this got conflated into an all powerful “no one disagrees ever” dictum is beyond me.

It’s also interesting to note that as Gene’s control waned on the franchise the no conflict rule just got stronger and stronger. Many of the above dynamics disappeared, making the crew more and more bland with each passing season. Picard lost his irritable edge. Riker lost all his ambition. Troi became a sad chocolate monster. Both of them stopped wanting to screw each other. Data became lovable. Only traces of Picard and Crusher’s professional antagonism remained.

One of the things people complain about most with Voyager is the missed opportunity for conflict. Combining Starfleet officers with a bunch of rag-tag freedom fighters, an ex-con, and two alien stowaways on a ship in the middle of nowhere was supposed to breed lots of conflict without breaking the sacred rule. And, yet, by the end of the pilot they were all in uniform and most of them were getting along fine. What conflict did get into later day Trek was exactly the kind of of stuff Gene’s edict sought to avoid. Whether it was Troi/Worf/Riker, Bashir/Dax/Worf, Odo/Kira/Bareil, or Neelix/Paris/Kes, soapy, melodramatic love triangles were embedded into the franchise. Gene had nothing to do with that mess.

The “no conflict” rule is a myth. If it ever existed it wasn’t what it became after Gene lost control of the show. It couldn’t have been. There’s no reason Gene Roddenberry would abandon his greatest writing strength no matter how cockamamy his vision of perfected humanity became. It’s time to put this myth to bed.

Doing Away With the Conference Room

The Next Generation and it’s progeny had a number of annoying narrative crutches they relied on, such as the incessant “Captain’s Log” that started nearly every single episode. The other major one was the conference room. Both of these were used rarely in The Original Series, which usually started in media res, often not even on board the ship. The original Enterprise did have a briefing room, but it was used sparingly and certainly not in the midst of a crisis. Those discussions were left on the bridge.

The Next Generation, on the other hand, made it a point to take every important person off the bridge at any moment to sit around a table and leisurely confab. One of the most egregious examples is in “Q Who” where, after the ship has had a chunk of it removed by a still looming Borg vessel, the Enterprise just sits there while Picard calls a meeting. Could you imagine Kirk taking everyone down to the briefing room in “Corbomite Maneuver” with three minutes left on the counter to come up with his Big Balok Bluff?

This is not an appeal to tradition, though. The Enterprise D doesn’t have the same psuedo-military hierarchy as it’s parent show, and I respect TNG as its own kinder, gentler ensemble animal. Picard is a listener, not a dictator. People talk more and react less. The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen once described The Next Generation bridge as a space for Picard to walk about and explore his options, as opposed to a place where he can just swing his chair one way or another and bark. There’s even more than one center seat so that everyone can sit down next to the captain and have their say.

That’s why, when looking at the many old Probert concept bridge samples Ryan sent me for the Vikrant I immediately seized on the ones that had replaced the captain chair completely with a conference table and also increased the size of the resources available to explore. I wanted to double down on the Next Generationness of The Next Generation while also keeping the action where it belongs – in the command center with the problem on screen in front of all involved. And, yeah, it looks even more like the lobby of a Hilton. So much the better.

Web Comic Timeline

The question I get asked most about each of the comic’s storylines is “when does this take place?” Most of the time this can be gleaned from dialogue in the comic that references other incidents from The Original Series. Often people wonder whether a uniform is appropriate to the era depicted or whether someone should be here when they thought they were there. Sometimes I get lazy and just add a chyron, even though I hate them. But when a story takes a year to tell, a few sentences at a time, details can get fuzzy even for the most attentive reader. So here is the official timeline of the comic with notable and relevant incidents from TOS and TNG included as reference points and background. The timeline will be a permanent page that will be updated as the comic lore continues to grow.

Check out the timeline here, or at the “Timeline” button up top.

We Have a Crew

Introducing the crew of the Ambassador Class USS Vikrant. As promised, the next comic will be set right before The Next Generation. The story is a kind of reimagining of TNG – a sort of “what could have been” – with similar characters and dynamics. Yet, it fits fine within established canon. The script is about 80% complete with some polishing most likely needed before it can start being published. What is complete and ready to go is the quick prologue, which sets up some of the characters and takes place a year before the story starts. That may show up as soon as Friday and should keep you all satisfied while the main script is finished up.