Stardate 64333.4: A threat to Romulus is detected by a mining ship commanded by a Romulan named Nero. A supernova with unique properties is consuming everything in its path. Ambassador Spock, now the Federation’s formal ambassador to Romulus, urges the Romulan Senate to treat this threat with the utmost severity, but his pleas fall on deaf ears – at least at the highest levels. Spock’s proposal of a means to stop the all-consuming supernova captures Nero’s imagination, and Nero is willing to pledge the resources of his mining ship to gather the decalithium Spock’s plan requires. This also means leaving his wife – about to give birth to a son – on Romulus, but Nero is swayed by Spock’s promise of help. Despite interference from Reman pirates – a situation which is resolved in Nero’s favor by the timely arrival of the U.S.S. Enterprise and Captain Data – Nero’s crew gathers the material necessary and heads for Vulcan. But both Nero and Spock are unwelcome on Vulcan: the Romulan is considered a security risk, and Spock is considered a traitor, until Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard steps in to clear the obstacles in their path. But even Picard’s influence cannot sway the Vulcan Science Council: they give the supernova threat no more credence than the Romulan Senate. Nero races back to Romulus to evacuate his family, only to see the planet destroyed before his eyes. Enraged, Nero decides that the trip to Vulcan was a Vulcan/Federation plot to delay his mission to save Romulus, and when Nero’s ship, the Narada, recovers surviving members of the Senate, Nero kills them, feeling that they too betrayed the Romulan people with their indecision. Using information acquired from the Senators, Nero takes the Narada to a top-secret Romulan facility called the Vault, where he acquires adaptive technology for the Narada and sets forth on a mission of vengeance. Ambassadors Spock and Picard, Captain Data, retired Commander Geordi La Forge and Klingon General Worf combine forces to try to stop Nero’s unquenchable thirst for revenge, as well as the spreading supernova threat. Only one of these goals can be met – and though Spock succeeds in preventing the supernova from spreading further, he finds that the resulting cosmic energies unleashed may have given Nero a way to take his quest for revenge into the past. Spock pursues the Romulan into the past, knowing that it can only be a one-way trip.
Review: Considered the “official prequel” to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film, “Countdown” sets up Nero and Spock as we see them in the movie, and gives us a taste of the future from which they hail. The story also shows us where the TNG characters are in relation to all of this, and helps to tie the movie’s story in to the existing franchise. As is typical of material in the “expanded” Star Trek universe, there’s no indication that IDW was under any pressure to pay any attention to what’s going on in the increasingly cataclysmic post-Star Trek: Nemesis novels by Pocket Books, and some readers may be just fine with that. The comic even ties off some of the developments introduced in Nemesis itself, and in some cases it minimizes their impact or erases it altogether – again, perhaps not something that anyone will mourn.
“Countdown” also has the task of setting up Nero as such a loose-cannon badass – such a threat to the nearly-unstoppable heroes of ST:TNG – that no less than Ambassador Spock has to be hauled out of retirement to pursue him. This task is complicated by the fact that the comic rounds up younger and much more able-bodied heroes – Picard, Data, Geordi – and then has to explain why Spock had to be the one to chase Nero into the past. The TNG characters wind up being little more than background dressing, and Worf is used as little more than cannon fodder to show us just how off-the-rails Nero is. Diehard TNG fans may be a little distressed to see their heroes marginalized to sell the idea that, even in the TNG/DS9/Voyager era, in the absence of Kirk, Spock is the only one who can face down Nero.
The script by Mike Johnson and Tim Jones does a good job of working both within the existing universe and setting up the events of the movie. It can’t have been an easy task to draw all of those threads together in addition to working in TNG “guest stars.” Lip service is paid, in the meantime, to the Romulan unification movement, the Remans, Borg tech, and Star Trek: Enterprise‘s depiction of the Vulcans as not as enlightened as they’d like mere humans to believe. That so much of these elements are brought into the foreground or background without it seeming like overload is quite a feat, though in some ways it also kisses off the “technobabble” era of ’80s and ’90s Trek, what with its talk of singularities and “red matter,” among other things.
The artwork is gorgeous, and nobody whose likeness is portrayed is let down here. There are several two-page spreads that have a real cinematic sweep to them, and the overall styles serves to bridge the visual leap from the last round of TV series and movies to the new movie’s key vehicles very well. There are a few odd design choices – Picard’s ambassadorial robes patterned after a Starfleet uniform? – that jump out…but not very many. Even the different appearance of the Romulans in the film is explained. When you have a story the pivots on deliberations in the Romulan Senate and the Vulcan Science Academy, you know that there’s going to be a lot of page real estate taken up by talking heads, and not so much by action, but when action there is stands out all the more because of this – and in the end, the “talking-head-iness” of it all is more a symptom of the kind of stories that TNG, et al., told to begin with.
So, will “Countdown” actually help to ease those accustomed to the “old” Star Trek universe into the new film? Maybe. “Countdown” is like stopping for gas at the last familiar exit before heading into completely unknown territory. But somehow, one can’t imagine it’ll be the last we ever see or hear of the beloved 24th century characters. Unless Paramount, via its publishing wing Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, takes the approach of focusing completely on “new Trek” spawned from the movie to the exclusion of all else (an approach that the BBC seems to have taken with Doctor Who print fiction), there’ll still be novels featuring Picard, Data, Worf, Colonel Kira, the holographic Doctor, Captain Archer, and so on. There may still be novels featuring the Kirk and Spock we already know so well. That seems to be the thing that’s so hard for some fans resisting the franchise’s new twist to accept: the old characters are still there. Too much collective goodwill is invested in those characters and their stories for a mere alternate timeline to erase them. Whether it’s in novels, graphic novels, fan films, games, or other media, they’ll still be there. “Countdown” makes a handy transition point with a story that illustrates that the characters still exist, but Nero and the aged Spock have disappeared from their universe. Picard, Data, Deep Space Nine and U.S.S. Voyager are still out there – and yet elsewhere they may have different destinies. Is nobody else excited about this stuff?
Writers: Mike Johnson & Tim Jones, based on a story by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Artist: David Messina
Colors: David Messina, Giovana Niro, Paolo Maddaleni
Letterers: Chris Mowry, Neil Uyetake, Robbie Robbins
Publisher: IDW Publishing