In the late 70s, Marvel Comics were desperate to get their hands on Star Trek. They’d been after the rights to the series, which had been long-since cancelled but enjoyed a massive cult following in syndication, for a number of years but the rights were tied up and, try as they might, Marvel Comics just couldn’t get their hands on Star Trek. The massive success of their Star Wars title made sci-fi the dernière mode for the comics company, so in 1978 they decided to create their own take on the classic TV series. The result was Seeker 3000, written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Tom Sutton and published in Issue 41 of Marvel Premiere, an anthology title that introduced various new characters and stories to see if they were worthy of a monthly title of their own. Here’s what was written in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin for that month:
“You know, one of our favourite TV shows was STAR TREK, and one of our biggest disappointments was that the rights to do the show as a comic book series have always been tied up. Still, we had the itch to do a non-superhero oriented s-f strip, and even our sensational STAR WARS book hasn’t totally satisfied it. In fact, judging by the cards and letters we’re getting, STAR WARS’ success has sparked a demand for more. So, we’ve set Devil-May-Care DOUG MOENCH and Titanic TOM SUTTON to work on a science-fiction special for Marvel Premiere #41. It’s called SEEKER 3000, and introduces a set of characters forced to depart a doomed earth and find new salvation for humankind among the stars. We think it’s out of the ordinary comics fare, and we’re more than a bit excited about it. So set aside the necessary thirty-five cents; it’s due your way this January. We’re betting you’ll find it money well spent!”
Those that remember Seeker 3000 usually do so as a Star Trek rip-off and even Marvel’s promotion of the book links it to the cult series, but to be honest, it’s a much bleaker picture of the future than any that the crew of the Enterprise ever encountered. In the far future, the planet Earth is doomed and plans are being made to save the human race with the use of the massive starship Seeker 3000. However, the dictatorial rulers of the Earth, The Six (sinister hooded figures representing the six major land masses of the world) cruelly chosen who will live and who will die and have blackmailed Captain Jordan Shaw into commanding the ship on its journey out of the solar system. However, Shaw has other plans and encourages the crew to join him in a mutiny, ditching the genetic codes of the privileged few selected by The Six in favour of humanity’s underclass.
On their escape from the solar system, the Seeker 3000 crew has to fight their way through a blockade organised by the ruthless Commander Jason, which they manage to do, although only to find that Jason has downloaded his consciousness into the ship’s computer and they’ll have to put up with him on their journey through the stars. Although the Seeker 3000 ship clearly looks quite influenced by the Enterprise, with its saucer-shaped command deck out front, the tone of the whole escapade is altogether less optimistic than the Star Trek universe; in place of the utopian idyll of the United Federation of Planets, you have this grim society under the yolk of The Six, which favours the rich and the privileged and is quite happy to let everyone else burn. Captain Shaw’s decision to rebel probably wouldn’t have been allowed in the 60s and might well have seen the writer accused of being a commie!
Seeker 3000 is also more racially diverse than Star Trek was at the time. The TV series made a big deal of having a black Communications Officer and a Japanese navigator, but the central three characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy were all essentially white. In Seeker 3000, Captain Shaw is white but his second-in-command Valida Payton is black, as is Science Officer Ben Payton (her twin brother) and the Chief Medic John Bear is a Native American. The other main character is Phaedra, a telepath who, although unwilling at first, eventually helps to guide the Seeker 3000 out of the solar system. Her inclusion is quite ahead of its time, as although telepaths would become commonplace in the 90s in Babylon 5 and later iterations of Star Trek, they were rarely more than novelty guest characters in the original series. The fact that Phaedra was ‘branded’ at birth also gives her a very striking appearance.
Tom Sutton’s artwork for this story is very distinctive; it has an almost European feel that is quite unusual for Marvel Comics. It’s a style that isn’t helped a lot by the colour and in the UK where the strip was printed as part of Future Tense Weekly, it actually looked a lot more stylish in black and white. It’s a style that fits very well with the sci-fi trappings of the story and adds a grand sense of scale to the outer space scenes. Some of the costumes are quite unusual; for the first half of the book, the crew of the Seeker 3000 wear cumbersome spacesuits with Captain America style cuffed boots, but once out in space, they change into much sleeker uniforms. Commander Jason is a much snappier dresser, often seen hanging around the deck sporting a half-cape, tam o’shanter and swagger stick.
Seeker 3000 never became a regular title, partly because within the year Marvel had acquired the rights to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and it was no longer deemed necessary. It was revived very briefly in the late 90s, but it wasn’t the same and only lasted 4 issues. Ironically, when it was reprinted in Future Tense by Marvel UK, it was sharing the same magazine with the Star Trek: The Motion Picture strips that had rendered it redundant. With the big screen success of Guardians of the Galaxy and the cosmic sweep of the Infinity War saga, Seeker 3000 now seems closer in tone to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than a lot of other 70s strips, especially with The Eternals just around the corner. I’d like to one day see a movie of Seeker 3000, though I can’t imagine that ever happening — still… in an infinite universe, you never know.