Bizarro Back Issues: The Haunting Of The Starship Enterprise (1980)
Around Halloween, there is nothing I like more than a comic where horror elements start to creep in when they clearly have no business being there. I mean, I'll gladly read eighty issues of Tomb of Dracula and I love plenty of comics that are just Hellboy grumping at werewolves, but if you give me a comic where all the spookums and haints show up out of nowhere and start hassling Spider-Man or somebody, I am delighted. That's why I was pretty interested when pal and occasional ComicsAlliance contributor Kevin Church suggested that I add Star Trek #4 to my annual scareathon, mostly because he sold me on it by telling me it was the comic where the starship Enterprise found a haunted house. In space.
He wasn't kidding: This is a Star Trek comic where the Enterprise finds a haunted house in space. And that's after Dracula shows up.
So here's the thing: Even when comics -- particularly Marvel comics -- are licensed books that are doing their best to emulate source material from another medium, they're still Marvel Comics. It doesn't usually get as extreme as it does in the pages of a book like ROM: Spaceknight, where it's so Marvel Comics that the main character is hanging out with Rick Jones for like fifty issues, but they still skew towards the very specific kind of weirdness that you get from the House of Ideas. And believe it or not, Star Trek tends to be one of the weirdest.
The license has bounced around all over the place, and while they never quite seem to click as well as you want them to, what I've read of the Marvel ones have that same particular flavor of weirdness that you get from the rest of the universe. There's this one Starfleet Academy comic from back in the late '90s that's more or less functionally indistinguishable from X-Men, at least in how the characters and relationships are set up.
And that's how you get a Haunted House showing up in the middle of space.
It's worth noting that this particular story in Star Trek #4 and 5 comes from Marv Wolfman, Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson, and that's about as big an all-star creative team as you can imagine -- and if you're familiar with what else Wolfman was doing in 1980, then you've probably got a good idea of what we're going to see as the story goes on. That said, it actually takes a while to get warmed up. Instead of the Enterprise just slamming headlong into 1313 Mockingbird Lane at Warp 4, we open up with that most exciting of Star Trek plot elements: The complexities of interstellar diplomacy!
Yes, it seems the Enterprise has been hired out to the people of Regulus 3 in order to transport Raytag, a prisoner, to his homeworld of Thallus, all of which are very Trek sounding names for things. And being the captain that he is, Kirk has elected to start this mission off by beaming a crazed, six-armed killing machine aboard the ship and taking the standard precautions of "having a few guys standing around."
SHOCKINGLY, this does not work out so well.
At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to turn into a killer-stalks-the-Enterprise story (you know, like Alien) and that all that haunted house stuff is actually a metaphor. It is not. It is as literal as it possibly could be. The actual alien-murderer stuff only lasts two pages, when he's quickly taken back into custody courtesy of a Vulcan nerve pinch.
But that's when things start to get weird.
As the Raytag continues to ask not to be taken back to Thallus, crew members all over the ship start seeing hellish visions of monsters and ghosts appearing and disappearing. And then DRACULA SHOWS UP.
And he is straight up, full-on MARVEL COMICS DRACULA.
Wolfman was, of course, one of the principal writers of Tomb of Dracula (alongside legendary artist Gene Colan) and it shows here. Dracula just appearing on a spaceship and slapping people across the mouth while calling them fools and talking about himself in the third person is maybe the most Dracula thing that he could possibly do.
In a perfect world, this would be what happened for the rest of the issue, and possibly the rest of the series, but alas, it is not to be. The world would not be ready for the story of Dracula on a spaceship for another 24 years, when Dracula 3000 was released. This time, Dracula bites the ambassador, turns into mist and disappears through the doors to exit the story, revealing that whoever designed the Enterprise, A SPACESHIP, did not bother to make it airtight.
And that's when the haunted house shows up.
At this point, Captain Kirk decides he's had just about enough of this nonsense and decides to beam over there and figure out what the hell is going on, with an away team consisting of Bones, Spock, and a couple of unnamed ensigns. I'll let you figure out who lives.
As you might expect, it's not long before they run into Frankenstein.
With that, this particular mad monster party has officially gotten completely out of control, and it only gets weirder when the door opens in the haunted space house and a bunch of Klingons walk out, phasers at the ready, taking Spock prisoner and plotting to steal the Enterprise's new warp engines. So what, exactly, is going on here?
It turns out that it all comes down to this dude:
As revealed in the next issue, the Klingons have developed a device (or, you know, a chair) that can turn someone's thoughts into solid projections that can be used to attack their enemies, and rather than using it themselves, they have strapped in some spacefaring horror movie nerd -- uh, excuse me, some archivist so that they can menace the Federation with Draculas and Frankensteins. Raytag has a reciever in his skull that picks up the signals, you see.
All things considered, this is a pretty terrible plan, and I say that as someone who is generally supportive of weaponized Draculas. But then, that's not the problem as much as letting your prisoner who hates you use the machine that makes his thoughts turn into real life Draculas and Frankensteins and then expecting that to not go terribly at the earliest opportunity. Which, needless to say, is exactly what happened.
Thus, the day is saved and the Klingons are, I believe, rent limb from limb by an army of monsters that bursts forth from this dude's head Cabin in the Woods style. But nothing will ever change the fact that the Enterprise ran smack into a spacefaring haunted house and everyone aboard the ship thought it would be a good idea to go over there and poke around.