Perchance To Dream (Collected in Star Trek Classics Vol. 2: Enemy Unseen)
Writer – Keith R. A. DeCandido, Artists – Peter Pachoumis, Scott Benefiel, Lucian Rizzo and Jason Martin
This 4-issue mini-series was part of the short but largely successful run of comics from Wildstorm DC. DC comics had long held the Star Trek license (from 1984-1996), but briefly lost it to Marvel from 1996-1998. When they reacquired the license in 1999 instead of picking up a new ongoing series, they ran a number of mini-series and longer graphic novel stories, create some of the most interesting, moving, and beautiful Star Trek comics to date.
Perchance to Dream takes place between All Good Things (the TNG finale) and Star Trek Generations (which shows the destruction of the Enterprise D). Worf and Deanna Troi and in a relationship, and many of the crew have transitioned to wearing the DS9 style uniforms. Data is exploring his dream program, and contemplating the ramifications of installing the emotion chip (which he later does in Generations).
Data’s anxiety about the emotion chip is expressed in a dream about the destruction of the Enterprise, specifically the Enterprise crashing into the surface of a planet (something we’d see in Generations). Data experiences fear, anxiety and helplessness for the first time, and is unsure where these emotions are coming from.
Meanwhile the Enterprise is dispatched to Damiano to beef up security for the inauguration of their new leader. The Damiano are a three-gendered species with no direct equivalents to male or female (leading to some interesting drawing choices by the comic’s artists). Their new leader Ra’ch is in a relationship with only one other person, a taboo among religious extremists but largely accepted by the planet’s majority. The moralists have threatened to assassinate the Governor if she does not step down.
After several attempts to assassinate the Governor are thwarted by the Enterprise crew, the leader of the moralists, Je’tran, unleashes an ancient weapon called the Chova upon the Enterprise which attacks people in their sleep and with waking nightmares of their greatest fears and failures.
Star Trek doesn’t have much of a reputation for dealing with LGBT issues and when it does they kind of run both ends of the gambit. Episodes like The Outcast do an okay job of setting up the allegory for intolerant society, but episodes like The Host still demonstrate fairly conventional ideas about gender (though to be fair to Dr. Beverly, two body switches would be a bit much to take in).
Perchance to Dream does a little better in some regards, while still falling prey to Star Trek’s weaknesses at other moments. Ra’ch is self-assured in her identity and is defiant and powerful in her defense of her choices (as a leader should be). So too the Starfleet crew is largely supportive and does not even treat her choices as an issue except in dealing with the threat of the moralists. I even think the comic gets points for breaking gender binaries, showing men with breasts and mustaches, women who are stronger or equivalent to males, and its that never seem to have much of a clear definition. Thankfully the comic doesn’t get too indulgent on this front, and handles the issue tastefully if a bit comically at points.
BTW, the horns are not part of the headgear, but are actually coming out the Damiano’s heads. Makes you kinda wonder how they get the headgear on.
The moralist dialog is pretty bad, and makes me kind of wish the comic had left these scenes out. These are clearly the bad guys to the point that they actually have lines like “we have an assassination to plan.” Oof, a little on the nose. I’m not saying these characters should be sympathetic, but making them so comically evil removes the discussion of changing attitudes or why people think the way they do. Another Star Trek comic (which I’ll cover later), does a better job of delving into why people might have intolerant (if incorrect) attitudes. Tolerating or changing peoples minds on an issue involves understanding how they think. Instead of making Je’tran comically evil, I think it’d be better if it was a faceless plot, or one that came from a more nuanced place (from a storytelling perspective at least).
One of the highlights of the issues is how the Enterprise crew ultimately defeats the Chova. Apparently the device can’t function in people with multiple personalities. And who on the Enterprise crew has more than one person swimming in their head? You guessed it, Picard.
TNG never really explored the psychological impact of Picard living an entire adult life in the space of 30 minutes, being assimilated, and mind-melding with elderly and emotional Vulcan. To defeat the Chova, Picard must undergo a mind-meld to bring these parts of himself to the fore, and then battle to keep other parts of him from becoming too dominant. If the whole comic was just this, it would be worth the price of admission. The way in which Picard keeps himself centered on reality (“There Are Four Lights”) also speaks to some of the trauma he’s been through. This is a rare peak inside a staid exterior to see the turmoil within.
There are other gems too. Explorations of Worf’s motivations for self-control. A lot of callbacks to previous TNG episodes from every season. There’s a sense of continuity of experience here that is usually lacking in the show. Points deducted for another alien race with apostrophes for names (you could have just called them Rach and Jetran). Bonus points for making Je’tran a television host of his own show a la The O’Reilly Factor. The thought balloon stuff was a little much, and Worf would definitely have check security outside the arena but these are nitpicks.
This comic would have made a great episode, even while it demonstrates the things that are better conveyed in comics. One of the better entries from Wildstorm’s brief run, and definitely worth your time. This story and two other TNG tales are collected in digital form in Star Trek: Enemy Unseen, available as part of the Classics series from IDW.