Star Trek: Countdown is a 2009 graphic novel in four parts written by Mike Johnson and Tim Jones from a story by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and illustrated by David Messina. The comic is a prequel to the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot film of the same year and serves (or tries to anyway) as a bridge between that film and the more established Star Trek universe. The story features characters from The Next Generation and explains how Nero (played by Eric Bana in the film) became a villain and why he hates Spock so much and is bent on revenge against him. The comic is set eight years after the events of the film Star Trek Nemesis and begins deep in Romulan territory. A Romulan mining ship under the command of Captain Nero is mining the rare element Decalithium on a barren planet. A solar flare erupts and it becomes apparent that a stellar catastrophe could be just around the corner if nothing is done. The planet they were mining is consumed in a blaze of energy and the "Hobus star" will eventually become a supernova and threaten Romulus. One person who does recognise the threat is Spock - now Federation Ambassador to Romulus. But Spock's appeal to the Romulan Senate falls on deaf pointy ears. They are not convinced by his dire warnings and suspect him of being involved in some sort of Vulcan plot. Romulans don't trust anyone, least of all Vulcans. Spock proposes to use decalithium to create red matter and then engineer an artificial black hole to consume the supernova before it becomes too dangerous. This process can only be engineered with Vulcan technology though and it makes the Romulan Praetor even more suspicious. Spock is unexpectedly supported in the Senate by the miner Nero, who has seen the impending danger first hand and is desperate to protect his home world and his family. But when both are dismissed by the Praetor, Nero decides to secretly go and meet with Spock and offer his ship the Narada for a secret mission to mine decalithium and attempt carry out the Federation Ambassador's plan.
This is only the second Star Trek graphic novel I think I've ever encountered (the first was a comic adaption of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock) and although my expectations were not high it's not a bad read at all with sometimes striking art by David Messina. The art is very Through A Scanner Darkly, as if the artist has painted over real pictures. It's crisp and bold if perhaps a bit too safe and samey. Sometimes great and sometimes prosaic. I'm not the biggest fan of this type of art (it tends to dominate the British published Marvel comics which I always avoid) and the colours are too washed out at times with a lot of dark hues (presumably an attempt to give the comic a bit of grit). The characters certainly look like their live action counterparts though and the space battles are all enjoyably conveyed with good detail. I'm not a rabid fan of the Star Trek reboot film so I didn't really care that much about where Nero came from or why he became a nutty villain covered in tattoos trying to hunt down a geriatric Mr Spock etc. It was more interesting to me to see what they did with The Next Generation characters who feature in the book and how they tied them in with the reboot film. Eight years after the events of the last Next Generation film, we see here that the android Data is now Captain of the Enterprise. Data of course got blown up in the last film but not before he had transferred his existing programming and memories to B-4 - the identical android duplicate of himself. Anyway, Data is now back to his old self and becomes involved when the Enterprise goes to the aid of the Narada when it is attacked by the Remans (the villains of the last Next Generation film).
Because the films are referenced so much it goes without saying that you possibly need to have some sort of knowledge of the franchise and Star Trek in general to get the most out of this comic. You could probably dip straight in regardless but they do seem to count on you knowing certain things already. It serves as a decent "what If?" speculation on what might have happened to some of The Next Generation characters although there are one or two problems with this. My main complaint would be with what they did with Worf. He's a general in the Klingon Empire now and I really didn't care much for how they left the character. Jean Luc Picard appears too although he's no longer the captain of the Enterprise but the Federation Ambassador to Vulcan and - of course - becomes involved in the mission to save the galaxy from the supernova. The likeness of Patrick Stewart is very good but I don't think they really flesh out the characters much here and make them terribly vivid. Spock is probably dealt with the best and more care is taken to establish him and his actions (understandably as the character was to feature in the Abrams film). The comic riffs too on The Next Generation "Unification" arc where Spock went to Romulus to try to broker some sort of unification with Vulcan afters years of distrust. This is the explanation for why Spock is on Romulus and gives him some good panels at the start. "Romulus. My home for the past forty years. When I first came here I was with the underground reunification movement. Hiding in tunnels, working in shadows. But slowly I saw those few Romulans who were open to outside ideas grow into many. Romulan society went through several years of transformation. Curiosity, tolerance, and diplomacy ceased to be forbidden words in the Empire. Finally, immigration laws were passed, and I was allowed to live legally on Romulus. After years of covert resistance, I could finally assume the role of Ambassador and work for peace without fear of reprisal. But there is still a long way to go."
The former Enterprise engineer La Forge also appears too. He's designing ships now and creates the "Jellyfish" - an experimental ship that will allow Spock to deposit the Red Matter. Aside from Worf, it's not a bad treatment for Picard and company although I'm not sure I would consider this comic or Abrams film to be part of the Star Trek canon anyway. The comic throws a lot of action at the reader and there are some typically Star Trek ethical and moral dilemmas thrown into the mix too. It isn't the most complex graphic novel and there are plot holes you could fly a shuttlecraft through but it just about all ties in together and works. I like the new Starfleet uniforms and also the character posters and sketches at the beginning and end of the book. The likeness of Leonard Nimoy in a sketch at the end is excellent. Weaknesses are of course that a galaxy threatening entity is rather old hat by now after umpteen Star Trek films and I don't think that Nero is ever that interesting a character either here or in the actual film. You do see though how he and his crew acquired their tattoos and managed to turn their mining ship into an indestructible vessel capable of destroying Starships though. That was a nice touch I admit, especially the latter. There are a few amusing lines ("Friends, Romulans, countrymen... we share the same ears....") but much of the dialogue and explosion is perfunctory and very straight ahead comic book. When we meet Nero and his mining crew at the start the banter is relaxed and familiar to stress how he was once a normal person. Someone says the word "ass" for example. Ahem. This is a decent comic although you'd probably need to be a fan of Star Trek or the JJ Abrams film to really love it.
Star Trek: Countdown runs to just over a hundred pages and at the time of writing is available to buy for under a fiver. I enjoyed it but it's not something I would consider an essential purchase and the Scanner Darkly art I can take or leave.
With every big movie release there is always the obligatory marketing campaign, the newly released Star Trek film is no exception, in the last few months there has been a series of graphic novels released that takes us into the movie, actually it takes us right up to the opening scene of the film. Now if this isn't a mouth watering prospect then I don't know what is.
To give an idea of how epic the story actually is, the effort to include key people from the Next Generation cast has been taken at every opportunity to assist in the story telling. The story centres on Spock and Nero, Nero being the leader of the Romulan mining ship, Narada, whilst Spock is the Federation Ambassador who has been residing on Romulus for nearly twenty years.
It is detected early on in the story that the Hobus star is about to go supernova, and is threatening the Romulan home world with extinction, which is in its path. Spock with the assistance of Nero has a solution. He proposes to the Vulcan Science Council to use a Romulan mined element called Decalithium. On Vulcan it can be converted to Red Matter which when injected into the supernova will turn the supernova into a black hole. Surprisingly the Vulcan Science Council does not agree to the plan of using Red Matter. Nero has a lot more to lose as his family are on Romulus and so he leaves Vulcan to rescue them on a personal mission. He arrives at Romulus too late to save his family, as Romulus is destroyed by the Hobus star which has already gone supernova. This drives Nero over the edge and from here on he exerts all his strength on revenge for the needless death of his family and home planet, his crew following his every order. The crew of the Narada murders anyone or anything that gets in its way. Nero has set himself a personal agenda as a man who has been mentally beyond belief.
The evolution is glorious to read, but also chilling given the lengths that he is prepared to go to and the crimes against his own people that he is willing to commit. Probably the best example explaining how the Narada was altered to become the immense warship as originally it was just a Romulan mining ship.
What has to be realised is that one intention of this prequel is to answer questions on how this happened and why they did this and so on and on this ground it answers all the questions without raising new ones. So in theory it ties up all the loose ends, in some cases before they happen. The story acts as an exceedingly strong prequel to the film, as this sets out the foundations and overall it is a good story that entertains and fills the background of the characters in the movie. It also answers questions as to what happened to characters after Star Trek: Nemesis as Data is now back to his old self and is now the Captain of a certain well known Starship; where as Picard has been appointed as a Federation Ambassador to Vulcan rather than taking a place in the Admiralty. The story brings a fair amount of closure to the Next Generation set of characters, and as the story unveils and more familiar people appear such as La Forge and Wolf then you start to get the impression that this is a handover story that will hand the torch from the Next Generation era back to the characters of the original series. Other than the fact that the older and more mature crew of the Enterprise-E are working together again, regardless if they are now siding with the Klingon Empire or the Federation.
David Messina inked the story and although in some places the stance of the characters appear to have been copied from a photo the art is generally good overall, although the quality does tend to vary between some of the pages, where as Spock or Wolf are instantly recognisable in some frames there are places that you do tend to have to look twice to see who is who. The use of colours compliments the parts of the story that makes them stand out; a good example is the pastel colours that are utilised when the story is set on Vulcan. Beige, Orange and dark yellows fill the frame and give a good amount of perspective. This also gives an idea of how the film will depict certain things and certainly sets the expectation.
The thing that I found to be the weakness is the dialogue that is spoken throughout, short sharp sentences that in some cases don't reflect the personality of the character who is speaking the words, although by the end I considered this to be a minor issue overall as the art does tend to speak on its own without the need for words to be added, which a quite a compliment.
What the writers and Messina has done is expand the Next Generation universe just that little bit more. Data and the crew of the Enterprise -E wearing the newly designed Starfleet uniforms that are also seen in the Star Trek On-line gaming portal as well. So eve though these are totally different to what we have seen before the story is true to the little Star Trek media that has been recently made available. Impressively each part finished on a climax, and if the reader doesn't go straight to the last page then the final frame can be quite a surprise. From reading each of the four editions individually the turn of the page was actually quite staggering as the twist that was discovered was fresh and unexpected. Please note this feeling may be diluted when reading the collective edition.
Writers JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who wrote the film, have delivered a strong story, it's a shame that this couldn't have been added as a prequel movie, perhaps in the same manner as the Kill Bill films that you have a large scale story split into two parts. Although given the scale of Star Trek as a whole, this would have cost a lot of money. I also tend to think that this was originally part of the script that may have been removed due to constraints.
Overall this is a good read, as you get towards the end of the book you do start to feel that the story will come to an abrupt end. To be honest it does, however what it does is open up the film and when the film is watched the readers of the book will have a bit more awareness of what goes on in the film. The story comes to a logical conclusion and as this is set in the Next Generation era is quite a sad ending. In some ways though this is refreshing, but in others this is frustrating as you end up wanting to go and see the film immediately after putting the book down.
Originally the story was released in comic format in four parts from the end of January this year to mid April. Each comic had a depiction of who was the central character in that specific part. The covers ran parallel design with the film poster as each showed a quarter the Starfleet delta with the character shown inside it. At the end of April all four editions were released in a single graphic novel.
As I said at the beginning, if this is a taster of the pressure building in a story that will run directly into the new film then bring it on as it looks like the film will start on a high note... and guess what? Yes it does!!! Leave that for another review.