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Josh has read the Star Trek movie prequel comic, Countdown!

April 17th, 2009
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IDW has published a four-issue prequel to J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie called Countdown.  I picked up the four issues, but decided right away that I would wait to read them until after seeing the new movie.  I didn’t want to be spoiled about any of the film’s story-lines, and frankly I didn’t have great expectations for the quality of the comic series.  (I have seen quite a lot of movie “tie-in” material — books, comics, etc. — for all sorts of big-name movies of the past decade or so, and most of them have been pretty wretched.)

So what changed my mind?  Well, I’ve been reading pretty rapturous reviews of Countdown on-line over the past few months.  People really seemed to be digging the series, which raised my excitement level.  And as my own anticipation of the new Trek film has grown over the past months and weeks as the release of the film inched ever closer, I found myself looking quite eagerly at the four issues of Countdown sitting in my “to-read” pile of comics.  I also realized that, while I have for the most part been successful in avoiding major spoilers about the film, my repeated viewings of the trailers, in addition to everything that I have read about the film for the two years that has been in-the-making, have certainly meant that I have a pretty good basic idea about the film’s storyline, and where/how it branches off from established Trek continuity.  I didn’t think the comic would reveal anything I didn’t already know, it’d just hopefully connect the dots a little bit more for me.

And so I took the plunge and read through the series.

And I am pleased to report that it is very, very excellent!

Story credit for Countdown is given to Roberto Orci & Robert Kurtzman, the writers of J.J. Abrams’ Trek film.  I don’t know exactly who is responsible for what in this comic, between Orci & Kurtzman and the credited writers, Mike Johnson & Tim Jones, but based on what I read here I am very, very encouraged about the upcoming movie.  My biggest fear about the film is that it has been made by people who didn’t really know and love Star Trek, and thus has abandoned too much of established Trek continuity that is important to the fans who have invested in this universe for over 40 years now.  But Countdown was clearly written by people who really love Trek, and who are steeped in its lore.

OK, I’m going to avoid any MAJOR spoilers as I proceed, both for what I know about the upcoming Trek film and for the Countdown series itself.  So most of you should feel comfortable in continuing to read.  But if you have managed to avoid learning ANYTHING about the upcoming film, and if you want to try to keep things that way, then maybe this is the time for you to move on.  (Maybe pick an interesting older post from my archives to read, instead?)

Still here?  OK, here we go.

Countdown is set in the Next Generation timeline, several years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis.  It tells the story of Spock and Nero, how their paths cross in the 24th century and how they both eventually wind up thrust back in time.  When I wrote above that Countdown was written by people who clearly love Trek and are steeped in its lore, I wasn’t kidding.  Countdown is full of little details that demonstrate that the writers really know their Trek.  I was also very, very happy that this “official” story undid many of the most egregious storytelling mistakes of Star Trek: Nemesis, such as the death of Data (whose “resurrection” is explained away in one sentence in which the writers took advantage of the extraordinarily obvious “out” left by the end of Nemesis) as well as Worf’s return to Starfleet.  (Although, minor quibble, Countdown‘s revelation that Worf now commands a Klingon battle-group didn’t suit me any better than Nemesis, which had him back in Starfleet with no explanation.  Maybe I’m just a hard-core Deep Space Nine fan, but I thought that show left Worf in a perfect place, as the Federation ambassador to the Klingons.  It felt like the perfect ending for Worf, who throughout Next Gen and DS9 had always felt himself torn between those two worlds.  I wish the writers had stuck with that.  But anyways…)  Data and Worf aren’t the only familiar Next Gen faces to pop up (but I’ll keep those secrets safe).  Countdown is set many years after Nemesis, and part of the fun is seeing where so many of the characters have wound up.  With the small exception of my complaint about Worf, everything feels “right” (as opposed to all the out-of-character behavior seen in Nemesis).

I should also pause here and remark about the art, which is gorgeous.  David Messina is able to capture the likeness of all the characters while still maintaining his own very distinct style of thick lines and deep, deep blacks.  His characters feel alive, not like stiff, traced copies of the actors’ publicity stills.  Messina is also able to illustrate beautiful and highly-detailed alien vistas and landscapes (with his depiction of the Romulan capital in issue 1 being a particularly impressive example) as well as some terrific space-ship combat sequences (like Nero’s battle with the Klingon fleet and then his showdown with the Enterprise E in issue 4).  I must also compliment the very subtle color art.  There are lovely gradations on all the characters’ faces and clothing, and some beautifully atmospheric outer-space imagery.  There were also a lot of presumably computer-assisted touches, such as the depictions of the Enterprise computer-control graphics that we can see are being holographically displayed over the crew-members’ consoles.  This is a really nice touch — it’s a cool little detail that looks awesome if you notice it, and is also a neat way to show that Starfleet tech has advanced since the last time we saw it.

Do I have complaints?  Well, sure, I do.  As someone who is very attentive to Trek continuity, there were a few things that threw me a little bit.  There’s a scene in issue two which takes place in the Romulan science council.  But Mr. Messina has illustrated the space so that it is a dead ringer for the Enterprise’s stellar cartography lab (as seen in Star Trek: Generations).  I was confused as to why Romulans were in a Starfleet facility, until I realized that it wasn’t meant to be a Starfleet facility at all.  Also in that issue, Spock returns to Vulcan and meets with the head of the Vulcan High Command.  Spock addresses that individual as “Praetor,” a term that has often been used in Trek books and comics for the head of Romulus, but never Vulcan.  Now, the Romulans are offshoots of the Vulcans, and so maybe the writers were trying to draw a connection between the two cultures.  Still, I thought it was an odd choice, and one that just confused me for a minute as I was reading.  (“Wait a second, is Spock actually meeting with Romulans??” I thought.)

But my biggest complain is with the catastrophe (I’ll keep vague on the details) that strikes Romulus, thus bringing Spock and Nero together and then driving them bitterly apart.  It comes out of nowhere, and for something capable of wreaking such havoc on the galaxy, I needed more of an explanation than I got as to just what the heck it was.  And, despite any distrust the Romulan Senate might still have for a Vulcan like Spock, it seemed totally ludicrous to me that Spock was the only individual on the planet who could detect what was happening.  Surely ONE other Romulan scientist somewhere else on the entire PLANET could have checked Spock’s data to see what he saw??  Spock and Nero seemed very much like Jor-El on Krypton, warning fruitlessly of what was to come.  This should be the key event of Countdown, and yet to me it felt totally silly and out of left field.  That really weakens the over-all story.  (It is possible that the Trek movie will give us more information that will answer some of my questions, although I sort of feel that the film will give us LESS information than Countdown, not more.  Providing background detail is a major point of the Countdown series, after all…)

But I don’t want to be too negative.  I really did thoroughly enjoy the comic.  It’s a great Trek tale, filled with exciting action and space adventure, some fascinating arcs for characters old and new, and best of all it provides a firm link between J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie and the established Trek universe, particularly the 24th century Next Gen characters.  I sort of wish we could see some of this on the big-screen, in some sort of prologue to Abrams’ film!  But of course I understand his desire to make a clean break and start things fresh.

One of my favorite things about Countdown was its ending.  Spock and Nero disappear (no surprise there), and the surviving Next Gen characters have no idea that they have traveled back in town.  But there are a few pages of the comic that take place AFTER Spock and Nero disappear.  Rather than having the Next Gen universe wink out of existence at the end (because of the changes to history that one presumes Nero makes in the Trek film) the Next Gen characters continue.  My supposition about the Trek film, as I have mentioned here before, is that Nero’s actions are going to result in an altered timeline, thus allowing J.J. and his team to make lots of future Trek adventures with their new cast, without having to worry about hewing precisely to established Trek canon.  We’ll see in a few weeks if I’m right.  But if I am, then I was very pleased to see the writers acknowledge that the Next Gen universe remained.  Maybe now it’s an “alternate” universe, but who cares.  I hope that J.J.’s Trek movie is an enormous success, and that we see lots more films with his new cast.  But I also hope to see lots more adventures of Picard and co. in the 24th century.  If it’s not on-screen, then books and comics will have to suffice!

As for Countdown, it did exactly what a prequel “tie-in” should do — it got me even MORE excited to see the Star Trek film.  Just a few more weeks!  I’ve got lots more Star Trek stuff to discuss with you all as the movie approaches, so stay tuned!

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