Thursday, February 1, 2018

Title Bout: Trekker #1 vs Trekker Special #1

Sci-Fi January 2018
Title Bout:
Trekker #1 vs Trekker Special #1

Will this series have you begging for Mercy?

Title Bout, where the Crapbox takes two books with the same title and pits them against one another has never been more serious than the matchup we have today. That’s because I’ve invited two GUEST STARS to assist me with this review of that title.

And what guest stars they are: Darrin and Ruth Sutherland!

The undisputable authority on all things Trekker and writer/artist Ron Randall, these two manage not one, not two, but THREE award-worthy podcasts that I’ve linked to below. You MUST check them out! They create some of the most professional sounding comic review podcasts I’ve ever listened to:

Darrin and Ruth: If you would like to learn more about "Trekker", please join us for the "Trekker Talk" podcast. Episodes feature summaries of "Trekker" issues as well as discussions of the art. There are episodes featuring interviews with Ron Randall as well as discussions of some of Ron's other comics including his time on "Star Trek", "Star Wars", "Supergirl", and "Justice League Europe".

"Trekker Talk" is available on Podbean, iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play and you can follow the latest news from "Trekker Talk" on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Just go to for links to all of the ways to follow the podcast.

Plus, they are a great couple of people as well.

I’m giving them first stab at opening because when it comes to this universe, these characters, and this creator, I can’t think of better people for the job.

Darrin and Ruth: Comparing "Trekker" #1 to "Trekker" #1 is a fun and interesting conundrum because neither issue is the beginning of the story.

First, a little clarification.

"Trekker" has nothing to do with "Star Trek", though the title originates from the same base word describing a long journey or expedition.

"Trekker" is a creator owned comic that is written and illustrated by Ron Randall and it has been published primarily by Dark Horse Comics with a couple of key exceptions that we'll discuss later.

"Trekker" chronicles the adventures of Mercy St Clair who is a bounty hunter in the 23rd century. Mercy lives on Earth in the city of New Gelaph. The city is in decline and crime is on the rise so the government has created licensed bounty hunters known as Trekkers.

The setting of the series gives Ron Randall great latitude in telling his stories. Some adventures take place in the dark alleys of New Gelaph and feel like noir mysteries, while other stories take place in the wastelands surrounding the city and feel like retro westerns, and other stories are star spanning sci-fi adventures set on distant planets. There is great variety in the series.

Now, for a little background.

After graduating from the Kubert School, Ron Randall was working as an artist in New York on titles like "The Warlord" and "Arak" for DC and "Airboy" for Eclipse when he decided to return to his hometown of Portland, Oregon.

There, Ron connected with Dark Horse Comics which was just starting up and "Trekker" premiered in the pages of "Dark Horse Presents" #4 in late 1986.

After wrapping the first three-part storyline in "Dark Horse Presents" #6, "Trekker" #1 was published by Dark Horse Comics in the spring of 1987, but while it is #1, that issue actually contains the second "Trekker" story which is "Smuggler's Blues".

The cover to that issue features a wonderful watercolor painting of Mercy standing atop a building with her cape flowing in the wind. This painting hangs on the wall over Ron's desk at Helioscope Studio in Portland where he works alongside other comic professionals including Karl Kesel, Paul Guinan, Steve Lieber, Jeff Parker, Colleen Coover, Leila del Duca, Lucy Bellwood, Terry Dodson, and many others.

Issue #1 is still a great place to join the series and features a terrific adventure. Ron catches up new readers quickly about Mercy St Clair and her friends and colleagues including Uncle Alex St Clair who is a police lieutenant and her best friend Molly Sundowner who owns a local music shop and Mercy's pet Scuf who is a dox, which is a cross between a dog and a fox. The issue also introduces detective Paul Clemmons who will be a frequent companion for Mercy in the years ahead.

Unfortunately, the recurring series came to an end after issue #6, but "Trekker" continued to show up occasionally in the pages of "Dark Horse Presents" and in a "Dark Horse Color Special" and in the "Decade of Dark Horse" anniversary collection.

The first time "Trekker" was published by another company was this second "Trekker" #1 from Image comics which features the story "Trial By Fire".

However, this again is not the beginning of the story. Ron continues to advance the "Trekker" world forward with each successive story continuing the long journey of Mercy St Clair.

As with every "Trekker" adventure, this issue is a great read and these two #1 issues are excellent bookends to the story of Paul Clemmons from his introduction in Dark Horse issue #1 to his tragic sacrifice in Image issue #1.

"Trekker" returned to Dark Horse Comics when the "Trekker Omnibus" collection was published in 2011 containing all of the "Trekker" adventures in chronological order from "Dark Horse Presents" #4 in 1986 through Image issue #1 in 1999.

Coinciding with the publication of the "Trekker Omnibus", Ron Randall launched where he now publishes a brand new page of "Trekker" every week. Ron also has a Patreon page where users can donate to support the new material and his posts on Patreon include a weekly process post showing the development of the art from thumbnails to pencils to inks to colors.

Dark Horse collected the first two adventures from TrekkerComic.con into trade collections titled "The Train to Avalon Bay" in 2014 and "Rites of Passage" in 2017.

And this is the perfect time to discover "Trekker", because Ron Randall is launching a Kickstarter campaign on February 20, 2018 to publish the next "Trekker" adventure titled "Chapeltown" which features a pivotal storyline for Mercy.

The Kickstarter campaign will feature the main "Chapeltown" story plus an additional story created for the campaign as well as exclusive prints and the opportunity to get original commissions. Check out the details at

And here I go jumping into reviewing a pair of titles from their favorite creator with all my signature no-hold’s-barred style. Will this end with SoC and the Sutherlands finding common ground in these books? Which will come out ahead? For answers to these and many other questions, let’s dig into the books.

Trekker #1
"Smuggler’s Blues”
Writer and Artist – Ron Randall
Letterer – Ken Bruzenak
Edited – Randy Stradley
May 1987

Both these books start with a number one, and for me number one denotes an introduction of a new or rebooted character. It’s a chance for the audience to get to know them, see their struggles and where they came from, and it is full of history about the world and time they inhabit.

Technically, neither of these books are her “first appearance” but both cater to new readers and try to ease them into her world. I’ll admit to saving this issue for second in reading order, just to see how the Image book worked as an introduction. More on that in just a bit.

We begin with Ron Randall’s amazing pencils, which are a fabulous way to encounter New Gelaph, the world he has created as Trekker’s setting. Trekker is like the anti-Warlord in some respects, allowing Randall a hand at drawing future vistas instead of jungle scenes. He takes full advantage of the opportunity, making New Gelaph full of futurist buildings, flying cars and hookers (and blackjack, one supposes) and back alley deals.

We get introduced to this seedy side of the city through a voiceover as Mercy St. Clair narrates our way down to street level, where a deal gone wrong will quickly factor into a need for her Trekker skills.
Books like this one make me miss the 80’s glut of black and white titles. Sure, there were many misses, but wading through them to find pencil and ink work of the caliber seen in Trekker made it all worthwhile.

But enough of that, what is the story here?

This bandit named Stravin gets caught sneaking a box of contraband into New Gelaph by a beat cop. And again we find that New Gelaph is as rotten a place as Batman’s Gotham, with crooked cops on the take wherever you go.

Rolling over for a few Gelaph bucks won’t go so well for this officer, though. He ends up knifed, causing his unseen partner to open fire on the three miscreants. 

By the time this is all over we have one dead thug and two dead cops. 

Randall decides to open on the scene of the two fleeing with whatever contraband was worth three lives and again the guy’s art racks up to flipping fantastic on my scale of great pencil work.

We move on to “later” after the cops find the bodies. The lieutenant in this police district is Alex St. Clair, Mercy’s uncle. He’s got a mess on his hands and has called in Mercy in her role as a “Trekker,” which from what I glean is a sort of bounty hunter. 

It’s also not something anyone wants to tangle with, as shown above. Mercy looks to be a heartbreaker, however.

And, at getting a good look at Mercy, this Langstrom character appears to give it some thought.

Love Randall’s ability to put faces on both Langstrom and Lt. St. Clair’s faces that let us know exactly how the lieutenant feels about one of his officers making eyes at his niece.

Or maybe he just knows there’s someone else on the force that has his heart set on Mercy, a young, sensitive detective by the name of Paul Clemmons.

Paul gets rebuffed by Mercy here, and there appears to be something under the surface of the woman that won’t allow her to commit. I like that in the character and like it even more that in this issue the reason she creates this distance isn’t presented in any way. Perhaps the explanation was in the prior DHP three issues, but I like it better thinking that it wasn’t and this mystery is intentional. That would point to Randall knowing how to write complex characters and leave some things for the audience to wonder about. Either way, I’m hooked by this. Let’s see where it goes.

Well, it follows Mercy from the seedy side of the city to the even seedier side of the city. A little slice of hell known as Volcano Alley. She’s here seeking a local perp she hopes will turn informant, a man by the name of Lazmusi.

And of course, she gets her man. 

Lazmusi knows the dead smuggler Mikka, so Mercy bets Lazmusi has useful intel. However both of them play the bluff game and the book paints them both as people who won’t budge…

…at least not until Stravin looks to clean up any loose ends, including Lazmusi. Lucky for the big bald lug, St. Clair can handle these two gunmen.

One goes down immediately and the other takes a bit more…persuading.

New Gelaph has some pretty lax laws on concealed carry, is all I’m saying here.

This bit of double-crossing earns Mercy some brownie points with Lazmusi, who comes across with the info Mercy seeks about Stravin.

The book then slows down to introduce Mercy’s Dox and her friend Molly, but these feel like scenes designed to give Molly something to do. The only real character development we see is that Mercy reacts to the question of what has Stravin done to earn a bounty on his head by stating that it doesn’t matter to her. This paints Mercy as a bit…merciless? As well as a pawn that might be serving interests counter to the common good. 

Okay, so maybe this was a bit of foreshadowing. More on that in a bit too.

But first we have mercy heading down into the sewers searching for Stravin while wearing Devo glasses.

She mentions that she won’t be able to sneak up on them, and she’s completely right on that note. Even without cool Devo glasses, the bad guys see her coming…

…which earns us a great two-page battle splash.

And some great shots of Mercy…making some great shots. Maybe these guys do need Devo glasses.

Until only Stravin and his mysterious package are left. Which ends up in a very suspenseful action chase through giant sewer tubes…

…that ends in a stand off. Stravin has apparently hidden a huge cache of volatile explosives down here. His aim: to get his contraband to breed for the noble purpose of providing a sustainable food source for all of New Gelaph.

So wait, Stravin’s a cop-killing GOOD GUY? Uh, way to pull the rug out from under us Randall. What can Mercy do with this now? Let him go? Bring him in? Adopt those cute little Quillon food beasts?

In the end though Mercy decides that she can’t let this guy go, no matter how persuasive his argument is. Which leads Stravin to push the button.

The blast leaves Mercy in a quandary over who to believe and who to trust. I’m honestly shocked that a.) the book is this deep (although Dark Horse did do lots of good adult stories) and b.) that Mercy comes off as a bit unlikeable in all this. Randall really trusts his audience by making a fallible heroine in a world that isn’t just black and white.. 

We end on Mercy falling asleep on Molly’s balcony to awaken the next morning to a city bathed in that same gray tone as the decisions she has to make in it.

Hats off to Randall on this one. It is a fairly adult story that goes beyond the heroes of the day or even the sci-fi tales it is rooted in. I’m intrigued where he takes the character next and astonished that even though I don’t particularly like Mercy, I am itching to see if the choices she makes change over the course of the next few issues.

Trekker Special #1
"Trial by Fire”
Writer and Artist – Ron Randall
Colored by Moose Baumann and Sasquatch Studios
Edited – Larry Marder, Brent Braun and Image Comics
June 1999

The new Tekker book starts and more has changed than just it being in color. For one, we are treated to cut scenes showing side-by-side of a shady figure planting a bomb…

…and Paul with Mercy getting all bomb-diggity. 

Their explosions are quite different though.

Not to mention that the aftermath of Paul and Mercy’s ends with the young lady either unsatisfied, restless, or feeling some level of regret. Which just means that when the call comes in from her uncle Alex alerting Paul to the bombing...

…that Mercy is ready to go before her companion of the evening.

Mercy’s sudden appearance at the crime scene doesn’t befuddle her uncle for long. The lieutenant appears to know exactly how the information traveled and through whom. Regardless of how she got here, he could use her help. They have a serial bomber who has a death toll in the hundreds.

And for all that bluster about him not expecting her to show, Lt. St. Clair wants Mercy on the case. But because this is a mass murderer, he wants her to take backup with her. 

Mercy has other ideas, of course. Those being a very unsubtle “I work alone” policy. 

Perhaps this is hubris or perhaps it is mistrust. It’s hard to say which is more true to the character without having read the intervening issues of her solo series and the DHPs serializations.

What can be said is that Booth proves untrustworthy before we even leave the next page, which means no matter the reason for Mercy’s rejection of his help, it was the right one. He appears interested in covering up the crime more than solving in.

And before we move on any further, I appreciate the color version of this, but reading them side-by-side, the power of Randall’s raw pencil-and-ink art is way better. There are times when slick pages and highlights with half-tone just don’t work as well as black and white. Mercy lives in a gritty city where dirty things happen daily. It fits the noir detective mold and that just screams for the black and white film treatment. I may be a fossil who just doesn’t appreciate all the modern coloring techniques, but this form of the media doesn’t serve the story in my opinion. There is a raw power to uncolored art that just fits this series better.

Moving on with the story, Mercy hits up her street contacts trying to get a lead on where the unknown perp is getting his bomb making materials, but she ends up with a fistful of dead ends. Even her pal Lazmusi has no clear answers for her.

Mercy arrives back home to find thugs who rough her up…

…in an attempt to get Mercy to drop the case. But before they can get to showing her a good time, her neighbor hears the ruckus and bursts in to help.

Sadly, Professor Richards isn’t good for much of anything besides being a distraction and buying Mercy a few seconds. Which is a lucky thing, as that’s exactly what she needs to disable one of the punks holding her.

And that gives her the opening to grab her gun and mow down the other two. Our bad-girl leader jumps out the window to an awaiting hover bike, however. 

Mercy steals one of the thug’s air cycles and follows…

…and the book continues to try its best to persuade me that this glitzy overlay of color is better than the old paper, pen, and ink version.

Our chase ends with Mercy having snagged the perp before she can fall to her doom while dangling from her own grappling hook. Unfortunately whatever the young lady is hiding it is worth more than her life, as she uses her shock prod to ensure Mercy lets her go.

I have a bit of an issue with the story at this point, but we’ll come back to it once we find out the identity of who is doing the bombing, why he is doing it, and what is at stake. More on this later, promise.

Mercy has some cleanup to do at her apartment and as the cops clear the bodies from the place, she gets down to asking herself some tough questions about the attack. Then series regular Jason Bolt jumps in with his cockeyed conspiracy theory, which will end up 100% correct I’m betting. No other reason to include his character and viewpoint in this unless it is exposition purposes to clue the reader in on information that there is no other way possible for them to know. 

So after being initially dismissive, she allows Bolt time to put his thoughts on the table.

Which have a lot to do with sensitive negotiations, a space trade route, and, well…

…yeah, ALIENS.

He offers to come along as backup, but Mercy turns him down. The funny part of this to me is that she JUST almost got killed had it not been for her neighbor watching out for her and showing up in the nick of time. Yet here she is rejecting another person because of this “I work alone” complex. Mercy is either stubborn, headstrong, or a bit slow, or maybe a mix of all three.
To prove it is not one of these, we have an interlude with Molly and Mercy at the park the next day where they chat about just that. Mercy says its about her trust issues, which, while understandable in the case of the other Trekker, seems to go a bit farther than she should when it comes to friends.

They end on Mercy admitting she has a date with Paul that evening unless she gets a lead on the bomber.

Which, of course, is exactly what happens. A message gets delivered to her table from Lazmusi who somehow knows exactly where she will be that evening. There’s some conversation here also about Paul’s place in her life which will come in later.

For now though, Paul insists on driving her to where Lazmusi has said will be the bomber’s next target. Because she is incredibly dense (there’s no other word for this), Mercy has Paul NOT call it in before they arrive because she doesn’t need backup. She obviously doesn’t care about the lives that might be lost if she fails to stop the bomber. Mercy walks this very thin line with me of annoyance and impressiveness. I love the gutsy, strong woman thing, but at times she is reckless to the point of risking the lives of others in ways that cannot be morally justified.

And while she states her worry about all those lives, I’m not feeling it as she rushes in alone to bag her man. This feels more like she is trying to validate her own self-worth as a bounty hunter. No one can do the job but her. Which puts her at odds when Paul shows up as her backup and admits that he didn’t call in the threat to central.

So now we have hundreds of people in danger that only two people know about. This should end well.

Paul finds the bomber first and while he is getting kicked in the face by the bomber’s weird rubbery and stretchy leg…

…Mercy foils the bomb going off, instead causing a quickly spreading fire.

Future buildings do have fire suppression systems, right?


No? Okay, then this is going to quickly be an issue as rubber man is revealed to be a shape-shifting Sh’arn, proving Bolt was right.

And since the Sh’arn isn’t the chatty sort…

…shady character Booth reappears, who turns out to also be an alien, but one hunting the Sh’arn setting the bombs. Seems the Sh’arn government knew about the mad bomber but didn’t want his capture to disrupt the trade negotiations.

That means no witnesses.

Which leads to Paul sacrificing himself for Mercy…

.. and the other Sh’arn attacking Booth Sh’arn, while Mercy cradle’s Paul’s body in shock. 

The Sh’arn end up conveniently destroying themselves in the fire and Mercy doesn’t lift a finger to stop them. 
The next page picks up the tale later as we find her attending Paul’s funeral with Molly, both of them dressed completely inappropriately. Mercy looks ready to go clubbing and Molly look peppy, not somber. Aside from that Mercy gives this talk about how Paul’s death is affecting her, yet denying that she loved him.

It’s all very…off-putting. Mercy used Paul’s affections to get what she wanted but didn’t love him, yet knowing the depth at which Paul felt for her, the more mature thing would have been to not get involved with him at all. Not to lead him on if she didn’t feel the same.

There are a lot of twisted, convoluted morals at play in this issue., and most of them make Mercy look pretty bad.

One last thing, back to the chick that falls to her death rather than tell Mercy anything: why would she do that? How deep into the conspiracy was she to know that the people she worked for would probably kill her if she talked? Did she know about the bomber? Was she also a Sh’arn? It is puzzling to me that she chose death over just being captured and giving up her contact. Life really must be cheap in New Gelaph.

We have a winner to declare and nicely enough three people with votes to count. I’m going to start with the Sutherlands, since it is only proper to let guests go first:

Trying to vote for our favorite of these two #1 issues is very difficult for us. We're huge fans of "Trekker" and love every single issue.

Ruth: I think I'll choose Dark Horse issue #1. This is the first issue of "Trekker" we ever read. We bought it brand new off the shelf in 1987 and immediately fell in love with the series. In addition, the issue features the introduction of Paul Clemmons and underworld figure Lazmusi who is another favorite character. Ron Randall's art is stunning from the beautiful watercolor cover to the black and white interior and his use of light and shadows works perfectly in this noir story that has a political and environmental twist.

Darrin: I agree with everything that Ruth said about Dark Horse issue #1, but I'll choose Image issue #1. The cover by Ron Randall and Karl Kesel is stunning and while Ron's artwork on "Trekker" is outstanding from the beginning, you can definitely see the development of his skills over time. The perspectives and layouts are amazing and sequences like the hover bike chase are spectacular and I love the montage of Mercy's investigation. Paul's sacrifice is tragic, but longtime readers will clearly see how Mercy's on again off again relationship with Paul setup the character development ahead as Mercy continues her adventures in the stories that follow and continue today.

SoC: So I cast the tie-breaking vote here. 

For me it will have to be Trekker #1 from Dark Horse. The art fit the tone the story was conveying with the ink and pencil being much more in line with noir detective stories than the colors in the Image book. Plus Mercy didn’t make as many choices that were morally questionable in it or put lives at risk trusting on only herself to save them. Maybe I’m assigning more responsibility in Trekker Special than I should, I mean we don’t hold Batman to that standard, but Mercy isn’t Batman. She’s fallible and I say that in a good way because that makes her relatable. What I would like to see is her develop beyond the emotionally stunted loner that she comes off as and blossom into a confident woman who can trust others, in and out of her Trekker uniform.  

Winner: Trekker (Dark Horse) #1

And remember that right now Ron Randall is funding a Kickstarter campaign to continue Mercy St. Clair’s journey. I really want to see where he takes the character from here, given she’s got a lot of baggage building up. What does the future hold for Mercy and New Gelaph? The only way to find out is to chip in..

Thanks once again to the Fabulous Sutherlands for all their help! Go check 'em out!

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