‘Star Trek: Countdown’ – A Review


Everyone I know currently has Star Trek fever.  It’s been a while since one movie has swept across every group of friends and family that I have.  It hasn’t happened since The Dark Knight.

After seeing Star Trek again this past weekend on an IMAX screen I was in manic Trek mode.  I tried to buy the original movies on Amazon, but the box set is way, way too expensive.  There’s a cheap Blu-Ray boxed set but then I’d have to buy a Blu-Ray player.  With no where else to turn to keep this good feeling going, I decided to check out IDW’s mini-series, Star Trek: Countdown, the officially sanctioned prequel to Star Trek

I have to give IDW credit, Star Trek: Countdown was a series that was out in issues mere months ago and they got the trade collection out in time for the movie release.

(Here’s the part where I tell you that it’s possible that something about the movie might get spoiled here, but I will do my best to not reveal every plot point in the prequel story.  Then again, it’s a prequel so you know that, like, Spock doesn’t die.)

As it is an officially sanctioned prequel the plot is by the film’s writers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, but the actually writing is from Mike Johnson & Tim Jones.  If you’ve seen Star Trek then you know the basic idea of what this story is about.  Ambassador Spock – now having been living on Romulus for the past 40 years since the reunification with Vulcan seen in The Next Generation – has discovered that a powerful supernova is about to erupt (Do supernovas erupt, or do they blow? Or does it matter?  Do you care? I’m not sure that I do), and once it does it will destroy Romulus and wipe out the Romulan Empire.  Spock warns the Romulan Senate that their destruction is imminent and they, of course, tell him he’s crazy and dismiss his wild Vulcan ideas.  Because, honestly, what do Vulcans know about science?

Yes, that’s right.  Spock is basically Jor-El.

Having gotten no where with the Romulan Senate, Ambassador Spock decides to defy the Senate and take matters into his own hands and he heads off to find a way to stop the supernova.  He is joined in this bit of defiance by… Nero?  Yes, apparently Nero is the representative of the Miners Guild in the Senate, which felt like quite a misstep to me.  Nero has a whole blue collar chip on his shoulder in Star Trek and having him be a part of the Senate, even in a minor role, doesn’t really fit with the character we meet on screen.  Then again, Nero was probably the least fleshed out character in the movie so I guess the writers can make the case that he could have been in the Senate, although that was really not the vibe I got from Nero in the film.

Anyway.

Spock and Nero go off to stop the supernova, but they fail because we have to get to the movie and the movie doesn’t happen without it.  After the supernova happens and before Nero’s ship and Spock’s ship enters the black hole that Spock created – too late – to stop the supernova and save Romulus, there’s a lot of space battles, and cameos, and head shaving, and head tattooing.

So what was good about it?  Number one, the art by David Messina was top notch.  As is always the case with licensed property comic books there’s a fine line to walk when drawing characters played by recognizable actors.  You don’t want every panel to look like a paused DVD.  You want the artist to draw while at the same time capturing the physical essence of the character.  David Messina does a good job here capturing the likenesses of all of the characters you would recognize without making it seem too stiff.  And that leads to the other major good thing about this mini-series, which is that – a few nitpicks aside – this really felt like the universe created by the movie.  It felt recognizable.  Reading these books enabled me to keep the good Star Trek feeling going.  The art had a lot to do with the overall vibe being right on the money.

What didn’t I like?  Well, it’s important to note that there wasn’t anything I really disliked, so much as stuff that I didn’t necessarily agree with.  Like, if I was the editor on this project I might have wanted to have a few discussions with the writers on a few points.  The main point that felt off to me was making Spock and Nero so closely allied.  They even mind meld!  It felt off to me.  Seeing the movie I didn’t get the idea that Spock and Nero really knew each other at all.  I thought that was a strength of the film – Nero wasn’t some big, important person in the Romulan Empire, he was but a humble miner driven to seek vengeance on the man he held responsible for the death of his people, but most especially the death of his wife and unborn child.  In the comic he’s much more intertwined in the whole affair and for me that would take away the power Nero had as a bad guy in the movie.

The final thought that I had on the mini-series was a bit too complex to put into the binary like and dislike categories.  The real strength of the film, one of the reasons why it has proven to be so popular, is that it’s a Star Trek film that caters to a wide audience without spending the entire time bogging itself down catering to the hardcore Trekkies.  Sure there were lots of little and sly references in Star Trek but they were only noticeable if you knew what you were looking for.

This is Star Trek porn.

No chance is wasted to find a way to include an established character from Star Trek cannon in this story.  When Spock and Nero are in trouble, the U.S.S. Enterprise commanded by Captain Data comes to the rescue.  Jean-Luc Picard is the Federation Ambassador to Vulcan who ends up helping Spock when the Vulcan Senate turns him down (what is it with these Senates???).  The special ship that Spock pilots into the worm hole was designed by Geordi LaForge.  And when a now shaved and tattooed Nero lashes out in anger he comes into conflict with a fleet of Klingon ships lead by General Worf.  Hell, there’s even a cameo of sorts by James T. Kirk.  As a Star Trek fan myself I didn’t necessarily find all of these cameos to be a negative, but it did kind of seem like they were trying a bit too hard to throw everyone and the kitchen sink into this story.  It ran so counter to the philosophy behind the film that it was somewhat jarring.

In the end I’m really glad for two things.  Number one, I’m really glad that I read Star Trek: Countdown, as on the whole I really quite enjoyed it.  And number two, I’m really glad that I didn’t read this before seeing the movie.

If you enjoyed Star Trek and can’t wait a few years for the sequel, do yourself a favor and check out Star Trek: Countdown and keep that good feeling going.

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Star Trek Nemesis was on Sci Fi last night. I hadn’t seen it before. Early in the film they brought up the notion that Data was to be the new first officer. A heartbeat away from being captain. How could you put an android in control of a starship!?  

    Also, not that I’m concerned about maintaining continuity, but does this jibe with the end of Nemesis?  

    Anyway.

    As a Spock and Picard fan, I might have to check this out.   

  2. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    Based solely on hearing "’Star Trek’ comic prequel," I ordered this trade for my library knowing that it would circ after the movie’s done so well.  Nice to see that it’s actually a good story.

  3. I picked up the first issue, and between the art and my general disinterest in the Next Generation, I didn’t follow the series. After how incredible the movie turned out, I couldn’t help but order the trade from my LCS.

    Thanks for the review. I can’t wait to read this.

  4. The recent Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast for "Star Trek" with Kurtzman and Orci show that they actually wanted a closer relationship with Spock and Nero in original drafts.  The mind meld was written and rewritten several times.

     Still, I read this (it’s also $4 on the iPhone from iverse media – $1 each), and while I thought Nero’s knowledge of Starfleet history was way too convenient, it did helped.

     As for the structure of the Star Trek movie, I would have preferred not witnessing the mind meld at all.  JJ Abrams has a great talk about the "Mystery Box" (which really plays well in Lost), and that could have been this movie’s "mystery box".  If suddenly Kirk was armed with the knowledge to deal with Nero, it wouldn’t be too questioned.  Everyone would be asking, even in the end, who Nero was.  They just need to buy these comics to find out.

     For Trekkies finding the movie troubling, I highly recommend it.

  5. @PaulMontgomery- If I remember correctly, in the prequel they do make a reference to Data’s consciousness being recovered and put into a new body.  So yes it jibes, but it kind of underminds the impact of Data’s sacrifice.

  6. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I still don’t understand why anyone would put Small Wonder in charge of what is essentially an armed luxury liner. Let him scan planets for oxygen levels or fix the replicator, but don’t give him the launch codes!

  7. I thought that the writers definitely new the voices of the characters from TNG. I really felt like I was watching the show in those scenes. And all their roles in Countdown felt like natural progressions of their characters.

  8. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    @PaulMontgomery:  You are a hater.  Did you learn nothing from TNG episodes #100 and 101?  Data had that exact same conversation with a subordinate officer.

    Oh, and in case you want a little plot synopsis of those episodes, I found them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redemption_(TNG_episode)

  9. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I’m half Amish.

  10. @Paul is that why you always mail butter instead of cards at Christmas?

  11. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    All of my childhood dolls only had half a face.  

    I found an unread Spock/TNG novel in my basement the other day. I may have hopped a few times.   

  12. I agree with a lot of the points here. It doesn’t always line up with the movie, but it is a lot of fun and if you’re a newcomer to the movie or a fan from "The Next Generation" it’s recommended. 

  13. Thanks for reviewing this. Looks like my library has a few copies available, so I’ll check it out shortly.

    The strong connection between Spock and Nero does sound a little strange,  because I did get more of a sense in the movie that Nero (and crew) were on periphery of all the action and activities to save Romulous, and when Romulous was destroied their blame was misguided grief from ignorance of all the facts.  If Nero has more of an inside knowledge, then it would make his actions more pure evil than someone who is acting out of blind ignorant rage. (Of course, the "blind ignorance rage" idea requires this to persist for 20+ years. I don’t want to saying any more than that, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for others.)

    Also, do the tatoos come in before or after the Romulous destrution?

  14. I’ve read a number of the IDW Star Trek titles recently and they have been quite good.  Especially Mirror Images, it was fantastic.

  15. Hey Dave, Mirror Images looks cool, and my library has this also. Thanks for the recommendation. I enjoyed the Star Trek: Hollow Crown from IDW, so I’m up for more Star Trek.

  16. I just saw the movie and it was awesome. I might drag my other friends to it. I might check out this trade, but I have no knowledge of Trek lore.

  17. I read this is issues and really enjoyed it.  I agree with Conor in that it was more Star Trek porn than an actual tie-in.  But I liked the little ‘for trekkie’ things that they mention like Nero’s ship being retro-fitted with Borg technology.

    I wanted more after this series ended.  The movie aside, I would enjoy more from this series that takes the characters from Next Gen into a new story line.  I know it won’t happen, just a setiment on how much I enjoyed it.

  18. I bought this in issues as i couldnt wait for the film and as i grew up on TNG it was awesome. I really liked it but havent gone back to it after seeing the film. I think in an ideal world i would watch the film, read this , then watch the film again but overall im just happy that Start Trek has actually got some great life breathed back into the franchise. i hope it continues

  19. @Conor,

    I feel like I had a different overall experience with the comic and movie because i read the comic first.  I may have enjoyed the comic more than you did specifically because I read it before.  The presence of the classic tv characters and the payoff in the movie learning that all the past reiterations were validated by altering the timeline was immense.  The back story fleshed out Nero and gave weight to his motivations seen in the film.

  20. @powerdad, 

    the tattoo’s come later. Apparently there is a Romulan custom that when a loved one dies they paint their face and when the paint wears away, their time of mourning is over. In this case, the crew tatooed their faces so the paint wouldn’t come off to symbolize that their mourning wouldn’t go away either.  

  21. I felt like during the movie’s mind-meld sequence it was implied that Spock-Prime first met Nero during his red matter mission, which would contradict their having met before this in COUNTDOWN.

    @Conor,

    Thanks so much for the great review; I totally enjoyed mini and your review actually makes me want to revisit it after having seen the movie itself twice.

  22. @Nate, thanks for the info!

  23. I read the individual issues when they came out and thought they worked fine before the movie.  I think the major thing the series showcased was that Nero as a character really needed more back story for people who only watched the movie. The mind meld scene just wasn’t dramatic enough to give Nero enough presence as a bad guy and he seemed a bit wooden. If the movie audience knew that he followed Spock to Vulcan and the Vulcans signed the death warrant for Romulus (in Nero’s eyes), I think it would have given more depth to his madness.

  24. @bluedream: See, I think the opposite.  Knowing he was on the inside takes away a lot of the power he had in the movie.  Luckily I have created my own continuity that excises this fun little series from the movie.

  25. It begs the question: In what Space does this comic takes place?

  26. Supernovae neither "errupt" nor "blow"; they are events of such cosmic scale they simply "occur."

    No human word can do a supernova justice. However, if you’re in the neighborhood of an "occurance, then "HOLY FUCK!" would be an acceptable response.

  27. So you suggest that he next iFanboy shirt for sale will be with a Star Trek logo and it says "Supernovas happens" or "Supernova happens"? A small joke on shit happens?

  28. I actually downloaded this from iVerse and read it on my iTouch.  I read the first two issues before I saw the movie and it did a decent job of setting up the back story without ruining anything.

  29. This is book #327 on the list, "Things I Never Would Have Even Glanced At If Not For iFanboy." Thanks again, you wallet-lightening so-and-sos.