Thursday, April 02, 2009

Star Trek: Countdown

Warning: lots of spoilers below.

Here's the most important thing to keep in mind while thinking about the comic prequel to the new movie:
TrekMovie: Well the bigger issue is more [Star Trek movie prequel comic] "Star Trek: Countdown" and whether or not that is considered canon. That is not a promotional thing, that is a…. thing thing. Your name, JJ’s name is on it and Alex’s name is on it. So canon or not canon?

Roberto Orci: I don’t think that is for me to decide. As you know I considered some of the books, in my mind, to be of character canon. And some of them in between the movies to possibly be even possible candidates for canon, until some other movie comes along and makes those impossible. That is my personal view, but I am not going to declare whether comics are canon.
So some things possibly might possibly be candidates for canon until they're contradicted by a movie (hey, Roberto: canon, by definition, is the stuff that the movies shouldn't contradict), and he won't say whether the comic is canon. It's the latter that's key here, because I'd hate to have to see the Star Trek novels having to tie into this story a few years from now, when they reach the year Countdown is set. Whichever year that is.

Countdown is setting the stage for the movie that's supposed to be a bold, fresh, new vision of Star Trek. Unfortunately, Countdown itself is hampered by everything that makes that new vision necessary: fanwank, technobabble, and yet another attempt at recapturing that Khan magic.

The first issue's not all bad. It introduces Nero, a Romulan working stiff whose ship is used in dangerous planetary mining expeditions. We haven't seen many ordinary Romulan civilians, and we get a bit of a sense of what their lives are like; Nero has a risky job, a loyal crew, and a pregnant wife at home. But the star of a planet he's trying to mine is flaring up.

And here comes the technobabble. The Hobus Star (it's always called The Hobus Star, never just Hobus) is going to go supernova. Not only that, it's likely to destroy the whole Romulan Empire unless the decalithium (oh, joy, another kind of lithium) Nero mines can be converted by top secret Vulcan technology into the mysterious and magical substance known as red matter (like dark matter, I guess, but more colourful). But wait, the supernova is changing. It could destroy the whole universe. Or maybe the whole galaxy. Depends which issue you're reading. Either way, it's scarier than Genesis and the Nexus combined. Now it's really really essential to get some decalithium converted into red matter to create a black hole to suck up the supernova. But the Vulcans aren't eager to help.

Fortunately, some people are willing to help. First, there's the starship captain who saves Nero's ship from some nasty Remans: why, it's Data! What a surprise! Looks like he got better after being killed in Nemesis. Then there's the Federation ambassador to Vulcan. Why, it's Jean-Luc Picard! What a surprise! (Vulcan, by the way, almost feels like it's not part of the Federation; they haven't shared red matter technology with anyone else, and they have their own ambassador on Romulus, where Spock lives and serves as the Federation ambassador. They also see Spock as a traitor.) Then there's the brilliant spacecraft designer who has the one ship that could possibly deliver the red matter into the supernova: why, it's Geordi LaForge! What a surprise! And then, when the plan works just a little too late and Romulus is wiped out, killing Nero's wife and unborn son (and a lot of other people), who's the general leading a Klingon battle fleet to stop Nero's quest for revenge? Why, it's Worf! What a surprise! The pages are practically stuck together with all the fanwank going on.

Nitpick: Romulans have green blood, not red (someone noticed that by the last issue).

The only connection to TOS is an image of Kirk on a monitor when Nero, as a guest of the Enterprise early on, pokes around the ship's library computer to see what he can learn.

So... why is Vulcan now almost belligerent towards the Romulans, Spock, and the Enterprise, when the Romulans have greatly improved relations with the Federation? Why is it necessary to wipe out the Romulan Empire (and, it's suggested, most of the Romulan people) with a scientifically wrongheaded big technobabble threat, when Nero's main concern is his wife and unborn child? Why is it necessary to bring Data back through B4, when Nemesis tells us that wouldn't work? Why have drastic career changes for Picard, LaForge, and Worf? And how much of this is going to end up established as definite canon through the movie?

For too long now, people making Trek movies have looked back to The Wrath of Khan as a model, forgetting that a lot of the best Star Trek TV episodes didn't have a big black hat villain. Nero is another Trek villain who starts out as a not bad guy who ends up a villain seeking an over-the-top, misguided revenge. There's a bit of Khan (whose wife and other frends died), there's a bit of Soran (who wasn't evil, originally, he just wanted to get back to the Nexus), there's a bit of Shinzon (the Romulan citizen who kills Romulan political leaders and gets a ridiculously powerful ship with unethical tech, though Shinzon got the ship first then wiped out the Romulan leadership), there's even a Borg connection (that's the unethical tech this time, instead of thalaron weapons)... well, the never-seen-before old Romulan tradition of shaving off your hair and tattooing your face and head as a sign of grief is something new.

I guess the writers of the comic (the movie's Orci and Kurtman get story credit, Mike Johnson and Tim Jones get the writing credit) wanted a Big Event story as a preface for the movie that changes everything. But, in my humble opinion, it comes off as a misfire too reminiscent of past Trek movies and of Pocket's Ordover Era, when the Federation/galaxy/universe was threatened with annihilation two or three times a year. They're just trying way too hard here to pile on the Bigness without thinking any of it through.

When the movie comes out, I don't think reading this will add a lot to the experience. It's highly unlikely that it will seem like a necessary bit of backstory to make sense of anything in the movie. So let's have it not be canon, please.


At 3:34 PM, Anonymous tkhobbes said...

Now, that sounds pretty weird... I absolutely agree with you, hope it's not becoming canon! It somehow would not tie in nicely into the current events described in the novels (not that this is of any concern to the people in charge, I suppose...)

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Daddy Todd said...

I didn't think much of "Countdown," either. The art was good, but the story was so full of gaffes and technobabble that I was really disappointed.

It looks to have been thrown together at a moment's notice -- which is odd, considering that the film was delayed by 5 months. I assume this was originally slated for release last fall, but was pushed back when the release was postponed, but perhaps not...

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, most other reviews seem to think it is just brilliant. I hope it never becomes canon for two reasons, first because data's death (in fact the whole of Nemesis, whether it was good or not) was meant to show how data was an individual and b4 couldn't replace him, just bringing in b4 (and making him captain!) just doesn't seem right (especially data's sinister taking over of b4's body).

Second is the fact that the crew of the enterpise in tng seemed to be much closer friends than the crew of TOS so i don't think they would drift apart just like that.

I just hope any future works are more respectful to events that actually took place in tng, if only actual fans were allowed in on the creative process....


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