The character was first played by Mexico-born Ricardo Montalban in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," as well as back on the original "Star Trek" TV show. Now, long after the cries of "whitewashing" have died down to a whimper, a new in-canon comic book released this week seeks to explain just how Khan went from Latino, to very, very Caucasian.
"Star Trek: Khan #1," released in comic-book stores Wednesday by IDW Comics, takes place right before the end of "Star Trek Into Darkness," specifically between the scene where Kirk wakes up in the hospital after "dying," and Cumberbatch's Khan is shown to be cryogenically re-frozen. The comic kicks off at the trial of Khan, with Starfleet officers showing off a picture of Montalban's Khan and asking why Cumberkhan "looks nothing like him." Khan then jumps into his backstory, in order to reveal the truth.
That's when Khan's ethnicity gets even more confusing, and writer Mike Johnson (along with "Star Trek" movie writer and story consultant on the comic Roberto Orci) pay homage not just to the movies and original series, but also Khan's original conception. In the original "Star Trek" TV series, Khan wasn't Caucasian or even Latino: He was from Northern India. In the comic, we learn that Noonien Singh was an orphan from the streets of India, kidnapped into a eugenics program and built into a super-smart super-strong super-human. By the end of the first issue of the comic, Khan has led his fellow eugenics-fueled orphans into a rebellion -- but he's still very obviously Indian in heritage.
How Khan's ethnicity will change from Indian to Latino to Caucasian is obviously a big question the series is going to answer -- though we're not sure how literally whitewashing an ethnic character is going to damp down any outcry.
That said, Johnson and company have been releasing some pretty excellent, in-continuity "Star Trek" comic books for the past few years, revamping old episodes of the original TV show, but filtered through the lens of the new movie crew. Johnson has already shown he has a handle on how to take potentially cheesy storylines (and sometimes downright antiquated one, like one involving Spock's mating rituals), and make them exciting and relevant for a modern audience. So, this comic certainly demands the benefit of the doubt.
The series is six issues long, so it might still be a while before we have any definitive answers about Khan's heritage, though we'll be sure to check back in with the series here at MTV News.
"Star Trek: Khan" continues monthly from IDW Publishing.