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Stamets & Culber, The Gay Couple Trekkies Had Been Waiting For

Contributed by François Peneaud

Star Trek: Discovery is the latest iteration of the long-running franchise, launched in September 2017, with two seasons already out. Some vocal fans were up in arms because it more or less violates the continuity of the 60s series, as it introduces a previously unheard-of sister of everyone’s favorite Vulcan. But it does so in style and goes on to build captivating stories inspired from – but independent from – the classic run of Kirk and Spock. Anyway, who cares about vocal fans?
Among other novelties of this series, the introduction of the first openly gay characters was a big thing: for the last fifty years, non-straight characters were at best alluded to. But now, we get not one, but two gay guys… and they’re a couple, played by two out actors.

Hugh Culber (portrayed by Wilson Cruz) is a medical officer on the science vessel Discovery. His husband is Paul Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp), a scientist who enlisted in Star Fleet to continue his research into the mysterious mycelial network, which enables ships to jump instantly through space, thus showing that hippies were right. Yes, there is such a thing as cosmic mushrooms.

An interesting aspect of modern writing, as is the case here, is that gay people are not topic-of-the-week anymore, but regular characters whose stories unfold the same way straight characters’ do. The relationship between Stamets and Culber is very quickly introduced in an everyday manner, as we watch them brushing their teeth in front of their bathroom mirror. After that, it’s off to space adventures, pondering what to do with human-sized tardigrades (where’s Hank Pym when you need him?) and puzzling over why Klingons suddenly look even less human than they used to in the previous series set later.

But let’s move over to the comics side of global entertainment. In march 2018, IDW, a publisher with enough titles based on franchises to set up crossovers to make Marvel or DC jealous (or at least, unlikely ones, such as a Star Trek/Doctor Who that was surprisingly enjoyable, in a fanboy way), offered Star Trek: Discovery Annual, a prequel to the series, which follows Stamets as he discovers (pun really not intended) the existence of a fungus with unusual properties: one, you’re not supposed to ingest it and two, it seems to link all points of space, in a universe-wide mesh that would put to shame the Armillaria variety (look it up, it’s fun). The squarebound, 40-page comic also chronicles the first meeting between Paul and Hugh, as well as what could be called their courtship, since they’re not shown as hopping in bed straightaway. In the TV series, Stamets has a bigger role than Culber, and the comic follows that. I wish it had shown the two guys together more often, but after all, this is an action/SF series.

Written by Kirsten Beyer (a writer of Star Trek novels, also involved in the current TV series) and Mike Johnson (who’s worked on a lot of Star Trek comics), with art by Angel Hernandez, this comic can mostly be read by itself. The art is pretty solid, showing a nice likeness with the actors. Not all franchise comics can say the same. It’s included in the Star Trek: Discovery – Succession collection.

The downside of gay couples being treated as straight characters is that Stamets and Culber don’t have it any easier than the other couples on the show. The upside is that their story is full of twists and turns. So, if you’re not too hung up on Star Trek continuity, get some tissues to cry into and prepare to go where no gay man has gone before. Oh, did I mention that Michelle Yeoh plays a really bad ass character? ‘Nuff said.

François Peneaud has read too many comics. For over a decade, he ran The Gay Comics List, a blog dedicated to LGBT-themed comics and their authors. He’s written a few comics in English and now concentrates on a series of books in his native French for the label Les Saisons de l’étrange.



June 28, 2020
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