Guest Blog: Comic Legend John Byrne Asks, To ‘Trek’ Or Not To ‘Trek’?

We’re thrilled to offer an exclusive guest column from creator John Byrne. In almost three decades, Byrne has completed work on hundreds of books, including classic runs on “X-Men,” “Superman,” “Fantastic Four” and dozens of other titles. He is currently working on a number of “Star Trek” series for IDW Publishing, including 2009’s “Romulans: The Hollow Crown” and the working-titled “Crew.”

Licensed properties scare me. So many bad experiences, ranging from “Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch” to “Space: 1999” to “Indiana Jones.” Thrice burned. Stay away! So when Chris Ryall, head editorial honcho at IDW, contacted me about doing some “Star Trek” work, my first response was a firm “No!” But Chris did not give up. He assured me that the good people at Paramount were pretty easy to work with, and that we might even be able to cook up a job where drawing likenesses would not be a consideration. (I learned from “Space: 1999” that actors’ mirrors apparently don’t work quite the same way as thine and mine.) “We have a miniseries about ’Trek’ aliens,” said Chris. “Would you like to do one of those issues?”

I thought about it, and almost immediately had an idea. “Could I do the Romulans?” I asked.

“Yes!” said Chris.

“Could I do a prequel to ’Balance of Terror’?”


So I did. And managed to pull off a pretty fair likeness of the late Mark Lenard in the process. I suspect his being dead, and therefore not in a position to have to sign off on the likeness was somewhat “freeing” for me. Whatever it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the job.

Then Chris asked for more. I suggested a sequel to “Balance of Terror,” continuing with the new characters I had created for my story. And that sequel in turn suggested another. Chris said yes to both. Then he said the real Magic Words. “Basically, anything ’Trek’ you’ve got, we’ll take it!”

And that, to borrow a line from Mr. Spock, removed the cork from the bottle, and allowed the genii to escape.

Something I’d had in mind for a couple of decades or more was a little idea about the shakedown cruise of the Enterprise. It’s fairly common for navies to take new ships, before commissioning them, put a crew of cadets aboard, under the command of a semi-retired Captain or Admiral or what not, and let them take the ship out for a spin, to see if there were any kinks to work out. Surely, Star Fleet must do their with their ships, too? So I pitched this to Chris, thinking graphic novel. He liked the idea, but it turned out IDW prefers miniseries that can be collected into trade paperbacks. I told Chris I did not have enough story for a miniseries. It would have been stretched a bit thin for a 48 page graphic novel, in fact!

But that was when he and I almost simultaneously had the same bright idea.

It started when Paramount approved the original “shakedown” idea, and suggested I include some “familiar faces”, to give readers and fans a more direct hook into the “Trek”universe. We’d decided on the character portrayed by Majel Barrett in the original pilot, “Number One.” I liked the idea of using her for several reasons, chief amongst them that she had not been given a name in that original episode, and, like the Mark Lenard Romulan Commander in my previous job, I liked the challenge in finding ways to get through the whole thing without giving No.1 a name. (Roddenberry had apparently intended that she not have a name, ever, and I wanted to carry through on that.) But when the new project grew from my imagined graphic novel to a six part miniseries, I had more than one problem. First, could I keep her nameless for that many pages? And second, how could I make “Shakedown” worth six whole issues?

Whether I am up to the challenge of the first, we shall see. (I have not started writing this thing yet.) The answer to the second presented itself almost immediately. What if, instead of being about the shakedown cruise of the Enterprise, this series was a “biography” of No.1? “Shakedown” would be the first issue, and the rest would follow her onto different ships, up through the ranks, until she arrived on the Enterprise around the same time as a young Lieutentant named Christopher Pike.

Well, this sounded like a whole ton of fun! There was so much in the No.1 character, even just working from her one appearance, in the original pilot. She is, for example, described by Pike (by the Captain) as his “most experienced officer”. Yet, she’s just a Looey. How did that happen? Why? And what’s the dynamics of her relationship with Pike, with Captain April (who is commanding the Enterprise when first she comes aboard). With other familiar faces from the pilot. And new characters, too, as well as new ships, invented just for this series.

We came up with the working title “Crew” for this series, and I framed it as being about what goes on “below decks” on a starship (or smaller). We’ve seen the bridge crew almost exclusively, but what about the people who do the grunt work? Working her way up through the ranks, No.1 would show us the “behind the scenes” stuff that keeps those ships running, as well as how members of the “away teams” who are NOT the stars of the show deal with the various adventures. One part “Mister Roberts” mixed with two parts “Das Boot,” stirred in with a whole lot of “Trek” lore that Roddenberry et al hadn’t figured out yet when the first pilot was made. Plus, from a purely artistic standpoint, the fun of drawing a somewhat different Star Fleet. Somewhat…funkier, with the different uniforms, the different bits of technology.
Even the subtly different look of the Enterprise herself. And no red shirts! Try to guess who gets killed when there are only two colors, gold and blue, to play with!

As you may guess, I am really looking forward to this one. There are other things in the pipeline ahead of it, also at IDW, but that just means I get to think about it more, which will mean more bits and pieces figured out by the time I put pencil to paper. (Well…okay, this is me. I have
already put pencil to paper. Even without knowing what all the stories would be, I knew what my first page would be. So I drew that, to get it out of my head before it “festered!”)

So, in answer to the question that forms my title here? HELL YES!!

Okay, Trekkies, who out there’s excited about Byrne taking a crack at “Star Trek”? Let us know in the comments! And check out John Byrne’s official website at