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Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness

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Friday, May 17, 2013
Orci, Johnson and Messina get the fan base prepped with plenty of action and enough open questions to drive a starship through them.

Something is amiss in the United Federation of Planets. Klingons conspiring with retired legends. Planetary genocide and planetary genocide (hints at spoilers but no real spoilers). Starships with unknown backdoors. Lying and cheating and stealing. Promises made that cannot be kept. And at the heart, the crew of the Enterprise, caught unawares. Each member of the crew checks his or her own moral compass and then they calibrate against the others. The prime directive lives to be challenged another day, and the criminals warp toward justice behind force fields.

And seemingly, all of the plot and action, which shares little trailers for the new motion picture, Star Trek Into Darkness, provide the backstory. Seemingly those who read these books will have “aha” moments sooner than those who ignore them.

As was true in Countdown to Darkness #1, these three books read like an episode of Star Trek (the original series). Some of the details have changed since the ‘60s incarnation, but these books reflect the brashness and swagger of Captain Kirk, and the emotional conflicts of Mr. Spock. Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson do the franchise proud with a well written script. It is hard to blame them for unresolved storylines and disconnected plot points because that is the point of these particular books after all. If they resolved everything, who would need to go see a movie?

David Messina does a fine job of capturing the characters, rendering the ship and communicating a sense of danger. The fiendish grin on Captain April’s supposedly sociopathic face, stern looks for Kirk and tender moments for Spock and Uhura. The images beautifully complement the story.

Fans of the 2009 Star Trek movie will feel like the entire series places them back into familiar settings, and long-time fans will likewise connect easily, despite some disorientation from the temporal reset in that movie. At its core Countdown to Darkness navigates a somebody-who-did-somebody-wrong plot, but the injured parties, apart from the Phaedeans caught between empire building and the delusion of power, hide their motivations and their wounds well. Not until the final panel, and presumably on Earth, a world away from the action of the books, do we see the name, John Harrison, being granted access to something. That’s the only clear connection between the books and the movie trailers. J.J. Abrams and his team are great at building suspense through visually compelling, but vague, disconnected hints. The IDW books, though a good read in themselves, are part of the Paramount marketing engine. If like me, a fresh encounter with the crew of the Enterprise is always welcome. And if you are planning to see Star Trek Into Darkness, I suspect there will be conversations that you will have a hard time following if you haven’t read the IDW series. I’m looking forward to putting this puzzle together, and that’s a good attitude going into a summer blockbuster. To Orci, Johnson and Messina: mission accomplished.

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