John Byrne is well-known for his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Alpha Flight, Batman, Superman, Next Men and Danger Unlimited, among other works. He is a member of the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame (with X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont.) Byrne and Claremont created the famed “Days of Future Past” story arc for the X-Men, which served as the basis for the recent (2016) X-Men movie.
Although he is known for art and writing, this series primarily showcases his skills as a writer.
Byrne uses pictures from the classic, original Star Trek series, and with some photo-manipulation (think Photoshop on a Joss Whedon scale,) he creates new stories. Many of them are sequels to existing episodes (“Who Mourns for Adonis?” “Assignment: Earth”) but some of them are entirely new stories, such as this one.
This episode brings the Enterprise crew into contact with a civilization that underwent a radical transformation. All of its inhabitants wear masks as a sign of their “rejection of vanity.” Clearly a religious metaphor, Byrne draws parallels between the religion/government of their world and similar incidents in Earth history.
Kirk, supported by Spock and McCoy decide to intervene, even at the risk of violating the Prime Directive of non-interference in the culture of a developing. The original Star Trek series established the concept of Star Fleet’s Prime Directive, agonized over by Captains Picard, Janeway, and others, but it is interesting that of all of the Star Trek Captains, it is Kirk who takes the most liberty with it. Byrne recognizes this, and he uses that leeway in order to craft an interesting end to an interesting social allegory.
Byrne’s writing is strong, as always, and his story line is courageous in using Star Trek to address social issues often viewed as a ‘third rail’ in other forms of discourse.
Byrnes example reminds readers of the role of Science Fiction in exploring social issues, and adds his contribution to a long list that runs from Utopia and The New Atlantis to 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, and more.
Comics have long addressed complex social issues, from Kevin Keller’s gay marriage to transgender heroes (Alan Moore’s Camelot 3000, published in 1982-1983, featured Sir Tristan of Tristan and Isolde reborn as a female and having to cope with the difficulties of that transformation). Frank Miller’s Holy Terror (about Islamic terrorism) was deemed too impolitic for publication as a Batman story, so he had to re-write it. Given this backdrop, Byrne stands in good company.
Written & Photographed by: John Byrne