Welcome to the Comic Archive! There have been so many amazing stories, characters, and series produced from comic book publishers for almost 100 years now; this column will serve to celebrate some of the tales you may or may not know about. Each week, we’ll take a story arc or trade paperback/collected story from a non-new comic (three years old or further back), and discuss the details with you.
Independent comic can be amazing, but can also be frustrating sometimes. Antarctic Press (AP) is a more “independent” comic company – I use the term in quotation marks, because they’ve been around for 35 years and have published books with a total circulation of over 5 million copies, so it’s not like they are somebody’s weekend hobby, they are a legitimate company and have been for a long time – but when you’re competing in a space with publishing powerhouses the likes of Marvel and DC, business-related challenges surely arise: budgets have to be watched, and difficult decisions have to be made.
‘Airship Enterprise’ is a 4-issue mini-series that was published by AP beginning in December 2015. One of the more challenging aspects of following a series by an independent publisher can potentially be a release schedule that can be highly erratic; for this series (part of which was previously presented in another AP anthology comic), issue 2 came in February 2016, but issue 3 didn’t hit the shelves until November 2016, with the final issue seeing print in March 2017. That’s a span of over 15 months for four issues to be released, with up to a nine-month gap in between issues; you’ll almost never seen anything like that with one of the “big boys.” Was this due to the publisher’s issues, or the creator’s? Hard to say for sure, but I’m guessing it was certainly frustrating to fans who were following the series upon its release.
I had the luxury of discovering ‘Airship Enterprise’ after its publication was complete. Created by Brian Denham (a long-time industry artist who has worked on series for Iron Man, The X-Files, and The Green Hornet, among others), the series is a steampunk version of Star Trek, that much is obvious from the title and covers. Like any homage or “re-imagining,” though, it’s in the details as to whether the story actually holds its own; in this department, ‘Airship Enterprise’ is a bit hit-or-miss, but overwhelmingly enjoyable on the whole.
Captained by Janus Tibss (changed in name to be just different enough from “James Tiberius” Kirk, and changed visually into a black female), the Airship Enterprise is one of Skyfleet’s finest steam-powered vessels, travelling the aether and having adventures. There are other characters that you may recognize vaguely in parody/homage form: the afro-clad communications officer Lieutenant Mason (more of a visual nod to Uhura than in name), ship’s Nurse Katrina Gallows (a close-ish take on Christine Chapel), and of course the second-in-command Mr. Spaak. Sprinkled liberally throughout the issues, characters reference Star Trek episodes in their dialogue, including discussions about a “wolf in the fold,” “amok time,” and a “turnabout intruder,” among others. Even the security detail are wearing red uniforms and are referenced directly as “Raidshirts” as they are told to go into situations first, so that “they can secure the area and set off any traps before we move in.” Classic red-shirt mentality!
It’s the main “villain” threat of the series that Star Trek fans will recognize most readily – and it’s a mash-up of two classic Trek villains to boot. In the first issue, the Airship Enterprise encounters an “air kraken,” a large flying creature thought to be a myth. Those that are familiar with ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ will recognize this beast straightaway as this story’s re-imagining of The Doomsday Machine from the ‘TOS’ episode of the same name. The crew of the Enterprise attempts to land an away team on the surface of the kraken, as they read a distress signal and debris from a transport vessel, the Christiaan Huygens, on its surface. Once the away team arrives, however, they discover an even more sinister threat waiting on the gigantic beast: the cult of Damballah, who look suspiciously like a steampunk version of the Borg from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ Their leader, the half-cyborg Aido Quedo (sporting a glowing laser eyepiece similar to Locutus of Borg), even says to the Enterprise crew, “Surrender your free will. Attempting to resist me will be frivolous and painful.” Sound familiar, Trek fans?
For everything the series does well, though, there are a few frustrating points as well. The art is beautiful and well-developed (the book was written and drawn by Denham), but the story jumps around quite a bit and leaves much to be inferred by the reader; normally I don’t have a problem with the latter point, but so much of what’s presented goes unexplained, to the point of confusion (for example, Spaak as a character just sort of shows up for the first time in the third issue – where has he been during the crisis in the first two issues? A throwaway line about being in the infirmary tries to rectify.). Issues #1 and #2 are 15 and 18 pages long, respectively, and the story just sort of abruptly stops at the end of issue #1, almost mid-sentence by a character – it picks up immediately in issue #2, leading me to believe that these were originally meant to be one full issue together.
In the final issue, a new threat is introduced that Captain Tibbs and her crew have to deal with: Major S’Kurge and the Freesky Empire, who show up in their “bird of prey” biplanes to cause even more havok. They are presented in a very cool way and meant to be a take on Klingons, obviously, but with such a late introduction into the series and taking such a back-seat to the main storyline of Damballah and the air kraken, it all just feels very compacted and rushed. The main takeaway here? I wished the series was longer and we can get more of this great story, dammit Jim!
All in all, ‘Airship Enterprise’ is a unique take and homage to Star Trek, and frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a steampunk version of Trek before this – or since. Denham is now the editor-in-chief of Antarctic Press, so is there the possibility of more from Captain Tibbs and her fine vessel in the future? My mind is already churning with several great story options. Fans can dream!
Got a comic, character, or story arc that you’d like to see covered by the Comic Archive? Feel free to list it in the Comments below or send your recommendation directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – see you in the funny papers!