They’re the butt of infinite jokes involving Star Trek: The Original Series. These were the men and women on the security team who often met up with untimely death in the name of exploration. They were expendable and after they died we didn’t usually hear about them again. But what if the security officers in red were actually important? What if they had names and fears and aspirations? What if, as an audience, we cared about them as characters?
This week heralds issue number 13 in IDW‘s Star Trek Ongoing series by Mike Johnson with pencils from Stephen Molnar. The Redshirt’s Tale is worth a read for any Star Trek fan, even if you haven’t been keeping up with the previous issues. For over a year now, this canonical comic series has bridged the gap between Star Trek (2009) and the upcoming, all-but-officially-announced film titled Star Trek Into Darkness. IDW has delivered several classic Original Series adventures with unexpected twists and a couple new stories all together. This issue is the first one-shot for the series, a departure from the previous 2-part story lines we’ve gotten in the past year. Security officer Hendorff is the protagonist here. Don’t recognize that name? Well, I’m almost certain the name was made up for this series because in the 2009 credits, he’s dubbed “Burly Cadet #1,” a notable achievement to be sure! Hendorff, better known as “Cupcake,” was the guy who got in a bar fight with Kirk in Iowa. Hendorff has made appearances in this comic series before and is also rumored to return in next summer’s film. All that being said, he’s not exactly a vital member of the crew. He’s just another redshirt, right?
Hendorff narrates this issue as a letter home to his mom and dad. He talks about the early awkwardness of working under Kirk, his perspective of the senior officers, the hazards of the job, and his passion for what he does. The Redshirt’s Tale feels a bit like The Next Generation episode, Lower Decks. This fan favorite focused on some of the “little guys” who worked behind the scenes on the U.S.S. Enterprise-D. Hendorff hasn’t been an important character up to this point. I mean, come on, anyone nick-named “Cupcake” isn’t exactly on the receiving end of respect. The greatest accomplishment of this issue is that it takes a character that was previously viewed as a bit of a meat-head and humanizes him. Suddenly he’s not just that guy who bloodied Kirk’s nose in a bar… but he’s a valuable member of the crew. He’s not over-emphasized in an undeserving way that feels forced either. This issue displays a philosophy that every person on the Enterprise has a role to play. While this tale is unique to the comics, it make a passing reference to TOS episode, The Apple. In the original episode we see redshirts dying to a number of hazards, but this time around things work a little differently.
I get the sinking feeling Hendorff will be a casualty when the Enterprise boldly treks Into Darkness next summer. But now, he won’t just be another redshirt humorously facing death. His sacrifice will mean something because we sympathize with him. Maybe I’m just being fatalistic though. This is an alternate universe where the redshirts survived the events of The Apple. Perhaps the security officers in this iteration of the franchise will be the subject of jokes about how unbelievably lucky they are. I think I’d be alright with that, because in a truly optimistic world like the one Gene Roddenberry created, every life has meaning and value, even those of the often nameless redshirts.