Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Captain Kirk vs. Space Pirates

I suppose that if you live in a galaxy where worlds can develop civilizations almost identical to Earth (the 20th Century Roman Empire seen in the episode "Bread and Circuses") or worlds that deliberately imitate absurdly narrow periods of Earth history (1920s gangsters as seen in "A Piece of the Action") to the point of copying slang, clothing, architecture and technology to the exact detail...  well, I suppose having space pirates that copy Earth pirates of the 18th Century in slang, clothing, etc isn't that unlikely.

Besides, if you are a space pirate, why wouldn't you look to Blackbeard and Treasure Island for role models? What would be the sense in being a pirate otherwise?

This is the situation Gold Key's Star Trek #12 (November 1971) presents to us. And so we get to see how the greatest Star Trek captain (and no one is allowed to suggest otherwise, by gum!) go toe-to-toe with a guy who is essentially Blackbeard IN SPACE!

Writer Len Wein actually gives us a logical rational for the existence of space pirates--a big galaxy with a lot of interstellar commerce + a mere 12 starships to police many square light years of space = good business for pirates.

Alberto Giolitti's typically excellent art gives the story life and provides us with some really fun ship designs. The pirate vessel Windjammer is particularly cool. It is designed to look like an old-school pirate ship, including a large sail. I suppose you could justify the sail by saying it collects solar energy or something, but the Rule of Cool is really reason enough for its existence.

The pirates have recently stolen a badly needed supply of dilithium crystals. There's a map leading to where the crystals are buried. Half the map has fallen into the hands of Federation authorities. The other half is in the possession of Black Jack Nova, the afore-mentioned Blackbeard-esque pirate who hangs out on the pirate planet Tortuga IV.

Enjoying the story depends on lot on whether you accept all the parallels and shout-outs to the Golden Age of Piracy and just go with it. Do that and you'll have a lot of fun reading it.

Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy go undercover on Tortuga, looking to join Black Jack's crew and use the now complete map to find the crystals. Scotty helps things along here. It's his idea that starting a bar fight and beating the snot out of some of Black Jack's crew would impress the pirate and (along with having half of the treasure map) get them berths aboard his ship.

This works. And somehow it seems right that it's Scotty who comes up with a plan that involves a bar fight.

Scotty doesn't have long to enjoy the success of his plan, though. He and Spock are overheard by a pirate talking about being undercover agents. This means two things. First, Scotty and Spock are terrible undercover agents.

Second, it means Kirk (who eavesdropped on the eavesdropping pirate) has to betray two of his friends to maintain his own cover.

Spock and Scotty are tossed into space to eventually die of asphyxiation. In a neat and (for Gold Key) rare connection to the continuity of the TV series, they are rescued by the Enterprise, which has been following the Windjammer by using a Romulan cloaking device stolen in episode "The Enterprise Incident."

Both ships reach the planet on which the Dilithium is buried. Spock takes down a landing party and meets Ben Cannon, the former captain of the Windjammer who was marooned by Black Jack. Cannon has also dug up the crystals from their original hiding place and hidden them in a cave.

I don't know why, but this obvious shout-out to Treasure Island's Ben Gunn strikes me as awkward. I can't explain it. I'm fine with the other piracy parallels in the story. In fact, I think these parallels are strengths. But Ben Cannon's presence seems to be taking the idea just a little bit too far.

The other small glitch comes when the Enterprise crew moves in to capture the pirates. Kirk opts to chase Black Jack alone, seemingly just so that the two of them can have a climatic sword fight. Of course, Kirk should have brought a few Red Shirts with him and even given his reputation as something of a Cowboy, it's downright silly that he doesn't do so.

It's too bad--there's no reason the final action couldn't have been choreographed in a way to logically pit Kirk and Black Jack against one another eventually. Kirk's men could have distracted by phaser fire from other pirates, for instance. Or maybe they could have tripped a booby-trap and gotten killed. They were Red Shirts, after all.

Well, perhaps the page count required Wein to rush things a little. Giolitti still gives us a cool looking fight and the overall story is indeed more fun than a barrel full of rum-soaked pirates.

Next week, a giant alien hand terrorizes Gotham City. Some days, it doesn't pay to leave the Batcave.

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