Staying Tuned In: “Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #1”

The 2009 Star Trek reboot story began not on the big screen, but within the pages of an IDW title. 2013’s Out of Darkness, the latest entry in the franchise, due in theaters May 17th also begins its story in the pages of a book. As with the previous J.J. Abrams Bad Robot graphic outing, Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness conveys the backstory for the new motion picture.

In this first book of four, script writer and producer Robert Orci, along with Mike Johnson, pen a graphic episode that will ring true to Star Trek fans, both new and veteran. It continues the rather interesting Spock/Uhura liaison revealed in the earlier Abrams’ Trek film, while further exploring Mr. Spock’s rather complicated relationship between emotion and logic, leading it appears, to nightmares.

A routine survey mission to the planet Phadeus forms the core of the first issue. As one would expect, Spock remains the logical conscience to the young Captain Kirk’s rather brash disregard for protocol, a characteristic that should come with little surprise for fans of Kirks Chris Pine or William Shatner. For those not familiar with the Star Trek Universe, early banter between Kirk and Spock explains the United Federation of Planet’s Prime Directive and its importance.

Phadeus, home to a purportedly pre-industrial civilization quickly emits anomalous readings that cause the young crew to seek exploration on the edge of Prime Directive. It appears that they aren’t the first advanced civilization to arrive on Phadeus.

The Prime Directive, a central tenet of the Star Trek universe states that the Federation should not interfere with the development of pre-Warp-Drive civilizations. Over the history of the series, individual characters, and entire Nation-States, find cause to test this directive. This ideology often creates the tension in some of the best Star Trek episodes, and has led more than one Star Fleet Captain to the loss of a loved one. We know that rationalization of the Prime Directive takes place at least twice in this book, but we don’t yet know all of the reasoning behind its violation.

What we do know is that Orci, Johnson and team grok Trek, as the book reads like a tight weekly television episode, albeit one that ends about the time of the second commercial. But given the nature of graphic treatments, we come to expect these rather rapid forays into our favorite universes. We also expect cliffhangers. Countdown to Darkness does not disappoint. On the last page Orci and Johnson introduce a Star Trek legend who harkens back to the earliest of Gene Roddenberry’s treatments—a character whose only screen time came during one episode (“The Counter-Clock Incident”) of the short-lived animated version of Star Trek. And as often happens with Star Trek legends, be they historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci, or fictional characters like Zefram Cochrane or Robert April, they don’t behave congruously with expectations. This character’s actions set-up a clear conflict for Kirk and crew that will boldly propel them into issue 2. As of yet, though, we have no idea what any of this has to do with the film.

David Messina’s art, along with Marina Castelvetro’s ink, Claudia Scarletgothica’s color and Chris Mowry’s lettering capture the Star Trek pallet and integrate well with the story. As with other IDW titles, multiple covers create a false collecting dichotomy, though limits on production runs may someday yield value. I like the Enterprise Edition, but I’ve always been a sucker for the Enterprise’s shapely nacelles.

Finally, in a plot twist worthy of note, when the final page of Countdown to Darkness turns, the unnamed crewman in the red shirt remains alive and well, an unexpected state given the action at the end of the book. With a live “red shirt” going into issue #2, what other plot innovations will Orci and his team introduce as the series progresses? And what will it all have to do with Into Darkness? As they say in TV, stay tuned.

RATING 8 / 10