“Ah, Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the old Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish best served cold? It is very cold in space.”
—Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
For this one review, I will be breaking my usual self-instated rule of not discussing works in a critical manner in the first person. I’ve tried, but this time it’s almost impossible. Star Trek has always been such a tremendous part of my life from my earliest years, so much so that I can unashamedly say that I can associate certain episodes and films with key moments of my life that occurred upon their initial airing or release. I was an extra in two episodes of Deep Space Nine. I remember exactly what personal demons were overtaking my family when “All Good Things” aired in 1994. At a point in my life when illness seemed to overtake me, I gathered up the courage and energy to leave the safe confines of my former Los Angeles home one evening to attend a Virgin Records DVD signing just to meet Leonard Nimoy.
This is all to say that I could try to write an unbiased review of the new comic, Countdown, a prequel to the JJ. Abrams-directed new film, but it would be stale, boring and a betrayal of my very being. So, to interrupt your regularly-scheduled critiques…
As much as I love good Star Trek, and as much as I love good comic books, it is on a very rare occasion that the two will meet. In fact, the last ten years (since “What You Leave Behind”, the pulse-pounding series finale of Deep Space Nine) has seen a complete dearth of quality Trek on television, the silver screen and even the printed page. The heartless Next Generation films continued to pour out of Paramount Studios like water dripping from a broken faucet, and the final few years of Voyager were foisted on the viewers of the already-dying UPN network. To add insult to injury, completely superficial and emotionless tales continued to appear in novels, anthologies and comics, and, as perhaps the final nail in the franchise’s already steel-lined coffin, the failure of the ill-conceived prequel Enterprise forced fans to wonder if they were watching a spin-off of Gene Roddenberry’s original universe or some sort of Karl Rove-programmed propaganda for the then-current Bush administration. Needless to say, if it feels like a decade since we’ve been graced with good Star Trek, it’s because it has been a decade.
The action in Countdown begins roughly eight years after the events depicted in Star Trek: Nemesis, drawing inspiration from the events of that film and the famous Next Generation two-parter “Unification”, as well as DC Comics’ Superman mythology. Die-hard fans will notice story-telling callbacks to “Space Seed”, The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. And cherish these references and call-backs while you can, because from here on out, everything will change.
As in the new film, the action in Countdownis driven by an aging Spock and his youthful Romulan counterpart Nero, a miner and family man who, after a cataclysm threatens to destroy his homeworld of Romulus, begins to become more of an opponent of Spock’s more than anything else. Like all Trek fans, I’d seen this story element before, but that didn’t stop me from allowing myself to become fully wrapped up in Nero’s plight, and his emotional counterbalance to the stoic nature of Vulcan’s favorite son is written so well and is such a great storytelling device it’s a wonder no other writers have thought of this kind of enemy for Spock before.
Since this is more than likely the final story to be told in the “Trek Prime” universe, appearances from other much-beloved characters are in order, and since IDW sadly only has the license to characters from the first two television series, we only get to check in with Jean-Luc Picard (now a Federation Ambassador), Data (still in B-4’s body following the last film, now Captain of Picard’s old ship), Geordi La Forge (much as he was in “All Good Things”) and, best of all, Worf (finally resuming his duties in the Klingon Empire as a General in command of his own fleet). Since checking in on folks like Kira Nerys, Julian Bashir and Tom Paris appears to be forbidden, the writers are able to craft as fond a farewell to the original universe as possible, and I salute them for it.
The story is one of purpose, and serves as a very tautly-written prequel to J.J. Abram’s reboot, bringing with it a sense of urgency and immediacy. The familiar characters are all written with the grace and care that they were handled with on the screen, and the new characters are introduced in an exciting and provocative way, forcing you to become invested in their eventual fates in the new film.
The artwork is also to be lauded. Many Trek comics of years past have seen their artwork trapped in the realm of mediocrity at best and sketchiness at worst. Here, not only are all the characters – even the new ones – identifiable at the simplest glance, but every aspect of the universe that fans have grown to love since 1966 is illustrated with crystal clarity. In other words, Spock and Worf don’t look like generic aliens; they look like Spock and Worf.
I suppose the thing about Star Trek: Countdown that strikes me the most is its seeming effortlessness, not just as a Trek tale, but as a Trek comic book. The tale conveyed within its pages gives me great hope not just for the future of the franchise as a whole, but for the future of the franchise on the comic book page. It is a great story filled with genuine emotion, suspense and intrigue, and may the Great Bird of the Galaxy continue to bless long-time fans with stories this good for years to come.
I feel as if my heart has been touched in a very profound way, and a part of me that hasn’t been properly fulfilled in ten years was just given a major boost.
Thank you, IDW, Paramount and Bad Robot, and may your continued association bring forth many more wonderful tales in this franchise that I hope will always live long and prosper.