I’m no comics scholar. I’ve said as much in the past, so those who are way more knowledgeable about the subject are free to correct me, but I personally don’t recall trade paperback reprints of current monthly comics to be that big of a thing in the Long 1980s. There were more traditional graphic novels and omnibuses that collected rare and out of print issues, but to my knowledge it wasn’t so common to see compilation editions for lines that were still in circulation. From my admittedly limited experience, that didn’t start to become a standard part of the industry until sometime around the dawn of the 2000s.
Having said that, in 1993, with three years of life still left in the line, DC’s Star Trek: The Next Generation started to release trade paperbacks. There were of course things like that Best Of… collection we’ve been talking at length about, but the real curiosity amongst these trades was one of the earliest: The Star Lost, collecting issues 20-24 of the monthly series, five books that comprised what amounted to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s summer event miniseries for 1991. No other story arc had been collected and reprinted before The Star Lost; this was the one miniseries about which DC’s editors said “You know what? This three year old run of issues is good enough that it deserves to be seen again” and put it on bookstore shelves to stand right alongside more “proper” science fiction novels.
And it is, and it does. Believe me, it really does.
The Star Lost is imprinted on me like any regular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, probably more so, in fact. I owned this trade paperback, possibly one of the first Star Trek books I ever got, and if I stretch my perception back I can almost remember pouring over it over and over again with nervous trepidation in a dark corner of my bedroom, which is the only way to properly approach a story like this at that age. For years The Star Lost was a story that truly haunted me: I long, long ago lost my copy of the book to who knows where who knows when, and in the decades that followed my memory of this part of my history with Star Trek: The Next Generation faded away. Nobody archived or preserved the licensed comics, and none of the official literature ever addressed them. The Master Narrative of history all but effaced this story to me to the point I would almost feel like I had imagined it.
And yet The Star Lost was a story whose images refused to leave me no matter how much time would pass-An offhand recollection of some crewmembers stranded in a shuttlecraft somewhere in deep space, or of Captain Picard giving a solemn oration in a sunlit green meadow, or of Jerome K. Moore’s eerily morose and unsettling cover art for the trade omnibus. Images whose lurking presence within the deepest recess of my psyche reminded me of the gaps in my memory and life story that I was forever unable to completely fill in or fully bring closure to. As I grew older I thought I knew everything about Star Trek: The Next Generation, what it meant to me, how it shaped me and the impact it had on my identity, and yet even so there was the errant thought or whisper of a dream reminding me that there was more to that than stodgy fandom academia could articulate. The Star Lost kept calling to me; a fitting title for a story that is well and truly lost. A part of my past so primordial I had all but forgotten it, yet a part that refused to be forgotten.
For years I would try to track it down off and on, perusing all the outdated old listings and gift catalogs I’d kept long after my affiliation with Star Trek had ended in the hopes of coming across some indication that this story really had existed and that I hadn’t just imagined it. I could remember that even then I knew this had been something deeply powerful and incredibly special, and it agonized me not to be able to validate those fuzzy, nascent, half-remembered emotions. But it wouldn’t be until 2008 and the release of GitCorp’s landmark DVD-ROM compilation of every single Star Trek comic book and trade paperback published up to 2002 that I would be able to fully engage and make sense of it all. I believe one of the first things I did upon getting the disc was to make a beeline straight for the DC section and file through their collection of scanned omnibuses to look for that one cover that, even though I hadn’t set eyes on it in decades and barley remembered what it looked like, I knew I would recognise it immediately.
For indeed, The Star Lost really had existed. And it was even better than I could possibly have imagined.
The trade version of the story opens with an introduction by Ron Moore, of all people. Moore talks about his fandom of the original Star Trek, how it felt like a family he could go on adventures with, and relates again the story he loves to tell about how he came to work for the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. He then goes on to say how much of a fan he was of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic series, as it gave him a chance to be part of the audience again and see someone else’s take on the characters he now worked with and had come to see as a family as well. In light of comments Moore has made in more recent years, I do now have to wonder how sincere he was actually being here. But regardless, The Star Lost is not Ron Moore’s Star Trek: The Next Generation and is flatly incapable of being that for a great deal of reasons. No, this is as masterful an example of Michael Jan Friedman’s touch as exists.
The Star Lost opens essentially declaring that it’s a breed apart. Like “The Vengeance Factor”, it begins not with a “Captain’s Log” exposition scene, but with a cold open. But instead of having the crew beam in, we get an establishing scene on a planetary colony in the grips of a debilitating plague. A mother is comforting her convalescent daughter. “Are we going to die, momma?” she asks. No, the mother reassures her: Help is on the way-A gigantic starship full of “lots of doctors and medicines to make us all feel better”. The girl wonders how she knows this if she can’t see it. She fears that there are “so many stars” that the ship might “go to the wrong one”. But her mother knows the big ship can never get lost, “no matter what”. It’s not until two pages in that we see the Enterprise at high warp, “flying as fast as it can”, just as the woman promised, with Captain Picard explaining the situation to catch us up.
It turns out there are two colonies on two different planets, and no-one is quite sure where the plague started. To get the medicine to the colonists as quickly as possible, the Enterprise takes Doctor Crusher and her team to the one with the larger population, while Commander Riker and Doctor Selar lead a team to the smaller one onboard the shuttlecraft Albert Einstein. Joining them are Worf, Wesley Crusher (who will be manning the conn), Nurse Faraday, Doctor Marino and ensigns Gold and Nigata. Beverly’s team arrives just in time to save her colony, but on route to their destination the Einstein encounters a massive spatial anomaly and is violently flung to the other end of the galaxy. Will is badly injured during the encounter and is left comatose and near-death and, to make matters worse, Wesley reveals the journey burned out the shuttle’s stardrive system, leaving them in completely uncharted and unfamiliar territory with only impulse to guide them.
Back on the Enterprise, the crew barely has enough time to process the shock of their friends and family disappearing before they have to race at top speed to save the second colony. The rest of issue one looks at how different people react to and deal with the disaster: On the Einstein, the junior officers are visibly shaken and begin to despair, but Worf and Selar quickly jump to raise their spirits. Selar points them that “There is nothing you or I can do to improve the situation” and asks “is it logical to dwell on it?” before reminding them that “Commander Riker’s condition is something we can do something about” and that they should “try to focus on that fact – and ignore extraneous data”. Worf, now the de facto leader of the expedition, rallies his troops like a general, boldly declaring that they’re still alive, and that they “still have food, and life support, and [their] wits”.
Obviously Faraday, Marino, Gold and Nigata will be looking to Worf, Selar and Wesley for strength, guidance and support throughout this ordeal. It’s the same narrative device Friedman has used in the past with characters like assistant chief engineer McRobb. But Friedman also knows that even though his main cast are ideals, they’re also still real people who have real emotions: His characters have no difficulties conveying this, and he has no difficulties writing them this way. Back on the Enterprise, Deanna tries to console Geordi by saying that “No one is more resourceful than Will Riker”, but she’s visibly nervous herself. And of course, Captain Picard must take it upon himself to tell Doctor Crusher what’s happened. Beverly appreciates the thought, but has to get back to briefing her staff on the plague situation. As she leaves, an obviously tormented Jean-Luc tells us
“I have informed Doctor Crusher of her son’s disappearance. In some ways, she is taking it better than I am. It’s been over ten years since I had to tell her of her husband’s death. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Now, I face the prospect of being the bearer of bad news again. Worse news– the worst a mother can imagine. I wish it were me on that shuttle instead of Wesley. I would sooner face death myself than have to witness Beverly Crusher’s pain a second time.”