Saturday, May 18, 2013

From the Archives: Star Trek: Countdown -- A Review (from 2009)

Today is my birthday!!!  And I was hoping to put together a fun (and quick) list of all the myriad things I would like (HCs, Legos, Action Figures, etc.).  But the hard cover list alone was so huge it was depressing.  Plus we had THREE concerts this week at various schools, which left no time to prepare.  The point was to have a "skip day" as a present to myself.  Anyway, it didn't really work out and I didn't want to use my buffer post because then I'd lose my security net (forget the fact that its very existence is to be used in just such an emergency).  Fortunately, I saw STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS yesterday, and that reminded me of the review I once wrote about the Countdown prequel comic originally posted on the Cosmic Comix website back in 2009.  Thankfully, my comcast account has a good archive system.

So enjoy the cool possibilities from the new Star Trek franchise:

Matthew’s Opine:  Earth Date 2009-05-14

I saw the new Star Trek film last Friday and I loved it.  Yesterday, I got to read the prequel comic, Star Trek Countdown and it was AWESOME!!!  I haven’t been this enthusiastic[1] about a comic in quite a while.  The story really enriches the movie by telling you “Where One Man Has Gone Before!”.  That “one man”[2], of course, is Spock[3].  Now, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read any further.  See the movie first, then come back.  I’ll wait…

So, either you’ve seen the movie already or you don’t care if you read [RED ALERT] spoilers.  However, you may fall into[4] another category.  Maybe you’re not a STTOS[5] person.  Maybe you’re only a Next Generation-era fan.  Well, if that’s the case then you really need to read this story.

The greatest thing about the new Star Trek film is that everything that we’ve seen throughout the various TV series (with the possible exception of Enterprise[6]) is still valid and true.  That Star Trek universe still exists.  The new movie is an alternate universe that is directly created by the events in this prequel story.  I thought it was a brilliant way of “rebooting” the franchise, allowing the creators to focus on the essence of the original crew members, while being free to go ANY direction they want with it (Spock’s mother dying, Vulcan destroyed)[7].  One of the few things that I didn’t like about the new movie was the tattooed Romulans and their ridiculous looking ship, the Narada.  This story provides a reasonable explanation for these things as well and really fleshes out the Nero character (who was somewhat two-dimensional in the film) and his motivations.

I haven’t mentioned much about the actual comic yet.  I’ll get there eventually.  I will say that it’s like watching a two-part episode of Next Generation[8]. So, if I’ve piqued your interest enough already and you like to read your comics without [YELLOW ALERT] spoilers, then “seek out” this prequel first, then come back, because I’m going to talk about most of it. 

The prequel is divided into four chapters.  In chapter one, we encounter Nero on one of his mining expeditions.  Here’s the cool thing.  He has hair and his ship has some semblance of Romulan design.  Already, we’re off to a good start.  The art by David Messina is excellent and he really captures the likenesses of the key characters well, which is very important in a Star Trek comic.  Nero experiences first hand an early flare-up of the Hobus system’s sun, which is about to go supernova.  Next, we see Spock address the Romulan Senate doing his best Jor-EL impersonation and like Jor-EL, no one is taking his claims about the Hobus sun seriously enough. We learn that the unification movement is now starting to impact Romulan society and that Spock is now a legal resident of Romulus.  Most of the leading Romulans still don’t trust him and they really get upset when he suggests that Vulcan technology is the only thing that can save the Romulan Empire.  Nero, who mines the ore (decalithium) which is processed to make the “red matter” used by the Vulcan technology, throws in his support for Spock’s claims about the sun.  Nero, against the Romulan Senate, agrees to help Spock get some decalithium and transport it to Vulcan.  However, the Narada is attacked by Remans (the ugly Romulans from Nemesis) while getting the ore, the USS Enterprise arrives just in time to help out.  Her captain?  Data.

There is some great dialogue between Nero and Spock.  Spock explains how he’s the Federation ambassador, not the Vulcan ambassador.  Nero is really going out on a limb trusting Spock.  Spock even tries to mind-meld with him to prove his intentions.  It’s a little too much for Nero.

In chapter two, Nero’s crew turns the tables on the invading Remans after the Enterprise has transported the Remans weapons away.  Spock and Nero beam to the Enterprise, where Nero is afforded every hospitality, except for access to certain databases regarding the Hobus system.  He does however read up on the history of the Enterprise’s captains, especially James Tiberius Kirk.  There is another great scene between Spock and Data, explaining how Data is even around:

            Spock: I must say your new commission suits you well.  We haven’t seen each other since before your…How shall I put it…Resurrection?

            Data:    Actually “Resurrection” carries with it religious connotations not applicable to my situation.  A more apt description would be a simple “Return,” denoting the fact that my neural nets were successfully imprinted onto B-4’s existing programming.

            Spock: You and I share a unique experience.

This chapter is loaded with the deep political intrigue seen in Deep Space Nine episodes.  The Federation is launching a covert operation into the Neutral Zone to stop the sun from going supernova.  The Romulans realize that Spock was right about the sun and are inclined to go to war to get the technology from the Vulcans.  The Vulcans initially deny access to Spock and Nero from beaming to Vulcan.  Spock is viewed as a traitor since he is now an official Romulan citizen.  When he does beam down to the see the High Council, they won’t even give him the traditional Vulcan greeting.  Why did they even let him come over?  Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard has some pull.

You would think that the chapter would end there, but it doesn’t.  The Vulcan’s refuse to help by giving the technology to Spock.  They’re afraid the Romulans could use it for weapons.  This enrages Nero, who vows that if anything happens to Romulus, he’ll hold the Vulcan people responsible.  Nero returns to Romulus to help evacuate his people, just in time to see the sun destroy it.  The threat from the star isn’t over, it will continue to grow and could eventually destroy the whole galaxy.

In chapter three, Nero encounters some Federation vessels that have arrived to help evacuate the planet.  Remember that no one expected the sun to go supernova this fast.  Nero thinks this was all a Federation plan to destroy the empire and takes advantage of the Federations humanitarian efforts to bomb them out of the sky.  He also picks up the High Command, who escaped in a shuttle.  These are the same high-handed jerks that wouldn’t listen to Spock in the first place.  Now, his wife and unborn child are dead, so he executes them.  His crew then shaves their heads in mourning and tattoos their faces.  Apparently, the Romulans have a custom of painting their faces when they mourn, which wears off when the grief subsides.  Their grief will never subside, hence the tattoos.  Nero acquired the command codes from the leaders and is in route to a secret Romulan base.  They agree to help him take his revenge by outfitting the Narada with reverse-engineered Borg technology – this explains why his ship looked like it did. 

Spock and Picard still have a plan that can save the galaxy (turning the sun into a black hole), but they need a special ship to execute it, the “jelly-fish”.  The “jelly-fish” is piloted and designed by none other than Geordi LaForge, who is now retired from Starfleet[9].   Meanwhile, Nero has been going on a killing spree (his ship grows and learns things) and incurs the wrath of the Klingons.  He’s confronted with one particular Klingon we all know and love.  Worf.

In chapter four, Nero asks Worf to surrender to spare the lives of his crew.  Worf agrees much to his subordinate’s dismay.

Worf:    Prepare a shuttle.

            K’Relli:  What?!  You’re not actually going over there?  I would rather die first!

Worf:    Two things to remember, K’Relli.  One, never question my orders again.  And two…Klingons never surrender.

So Worf uses it as an opportunity to initiate a frontal attack on the Narada.  This is not the “soft” lovable Starfleet Worf.  He utters a particularly chilling, but certainly apt statement on Nero’s ship:  “Meet me on the Bridge!  KILL ANYTHING you find on the way!”.  Unfortunately, Nero uses a “dishonorable” surprise attack on Worf to IMPALE him!  While Spock proceeds to deal with the sun, the Enterprise confronts the Narada.  (Nero also decimated a lot of Federation ships).  In an attempt to get the Enterprise to lower her shields, he agrees to send back the barely breathing Worf.  Of course they concede, because it’s the only way to keep Worf alive.  The Enterprise gives a good fight, but Nero still has the upper hand.  He leaves them to pursue Spock at the star, who has just successfully created the black hole.

Nero:    SPOCK!  You’ve done it, haven’t you?  You’ve saved your people.  And all it cost you was the DEATH OF MINE!  You used me Spock!  You used my ship, my crew, my TRUST IN YOU!

Nero gets sucked into the black hole first, followed by Spock[10], who knew this was a one-way mission.  The Enterprise arrives in time to see him disappear. 

Everything is explained well and makes perfect sense.  The writers, Mike Johnson and Tim Jones, really know these characters well as the dialogue shows.  They did a great job with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s story.  As I mentioned before Messina’s art is exceptional and the coloring job by Giovanna Niro is great.  Sometimes Star Trek comics have difficulty capturing the feel of the shows and movies.  This one was perfect.  While there are certainly a lot of talking heads, it doesn’t come off as a “talking heads” book.  There is a lot of action, including some spectacular ship battles. It may be the best Star Trek comic ever produced.   For one thing it is firmly in-continuity and is a significant part of the mythos.  As always, IDW does a stellar job producing their trades, the only problem with mine…it was a second printing!  (sob)

I would love to see this book get the Watchman Blu-Ray treatment.  Put the book on DVD with limited animation, add a great Next Generation score[11], and use all the original actors for the voices.  I’m telling you it would sell millions and would be incredible.  If we can’t have a movie of this then that would be a good substitute.  Still, I can at least play the voices in my head while reading the book.  Anyway, I hope you’ll check it out.  You won’t be disappointed if you’re a Trek fan. 

Let’s see personal agenda checklist:  mentioned ApologetiX, Spider-Girl, and ranted about JMS’s Spider-man.  Looks like I got everything out of my system for now[12]

[1] I mean it’s like I just downloaded the latest track from ApologetiX’s forthcoming Recovery album [] and I’m compelled to tell everybody how GREAT it is.
[2] Okay, I know he’s only half-human, but as Kirk once said “Of all the souls that I’ve encountered in the galaxy.  His was the most human.”
[3] Actually, we have to refer to him as Spock-Prime now.
[4] For some reason, that phrase reminds me of Mark falling into Hoodoo’s giant top hat during the opening part of Lidsville.
[5] That’s Star Trek: The Original Series for those of you who are acronymically-challenged.
[6] Sorry Rusty.
[7] I really wish some comic creators (or publishers I should say) would be so thoughtful.  It reminds me of that classic “parallel time“ season of Dark Shadows.  Although, I think the names even changed for some of those characters.  Anyway, I just wanted to plug Dark Shadows and rant about One More Day and Gwen Stacy/Norman Osborn again.  If you want to read the about the “real” Spider-man universe, check out Amazing Spider-man Family No. 5 with the debut of the new Spectacular Spider-Girl feature.
[8] You know the really good classic ones, which were better than all of the Next Generation films.
[9] This is so cool.  If you were a creative engineer like LaForge, wouldn’t you want to be able to design your own ships and not just be working for others in crisis situations.
[10] This explains why Spock arrived 25 years later in the film.
[11] That was another thing the movie was a little lax on was the music.
[12] Tom Peyer did an excellent job with footnotes in his forward to the Flash Archives Volume 5.  So, if you didn’t like them – blame him.

Hey, it's 43 year old me again in 2013.  I've gotta say that the new Star Trek movie left me cold. Maybe I was too tired, maybe the cliche's were too tired.  I do think the pacing was too abrupt at the beginning and I couldn't really get in-sync with the story. Maybe the story just was too much of a rehash -- too many crying moments (the actors, not me).  I dunno.  At least it wasn't as bad as the Great Gatsby.



  2. Thanks Jim! "Big" indeed. Gravity takes its toll at this age and I need to exercise more to keep from looking like the barrel-chested Superman from the 1950's! My normal plan of eating only one meal a day during the work week isn't as effective as it used to be. Of course my daily dark hot chocolate + decaf coffee and handfuls of dark chocolate covered almonds might not be helping. I get to see ApologetiX tonight in Cumberland, MD and best of all they're coming to my church on Jun 14th. I've got a lot of promoting to do before then.

    There was no time today, but I get to go to the Lego store next week and get some new (probably Iron Man 3) sets!

    Had a nice walk with the dog and four of the kids this morning. The Grist Mill trail of Patapsco Valley State Park may be my favorite place to go in Maryland! It only took me 19 years to discover it.