Friday, March 27, 2009

OT: Review of Star Trek Countdown TPB

Klingons vs NeroBuy Star Trek Countdown Trade Paperback TPB at AmazonAs I mentioned a few days ago, I managed to hit the lottery and get my copy of the Star Trek: Countdown trade paperback (TPB) very early from Amazon, despite the fact that the final issue of the comic book (Issue #4) won't hit streets until next week, and the TPB won't be out until April 7th (or 29th, depending on who you ask). Personally I would have preferred to win a real lottery, but that's no reflection of my opinion of Countdown itself. I skipped the comics as I always do these days, preferring to wait for the collected versions to be released. It's often less expensive (as it was in this case) and sometimes you get extras (as you do here, I suspect).

This will be a spoiler-light review, as so few have even seen the concluding Issue #4 yet. As quick background to tell you where I'm coming from (I don't think I've ever spelled it out here before), I'm a fan of most things Star Trek. I love the Original Series, but love most of the new shows as well. I thought TNG was great, DS9 was brilliant, and I even enjoyed Enterprise. Voyager? Not so much. I didn't think it was bad, I just never found it engaging. I love most of the films; Wrath of Khan is my favorite, with Undiscovered Country a close second. Nemesis was an unforgiveable mess. As for the upcoming JJ Abrams film, I'm thrilled about it. The casting looks great, what I know of the storyline sounds fun and respectful of Trek, the trailers have made my heart leap, and I even like the new Enterprise design. I have a few concerns, but I'm really open-minded about it. I generally don't read Trek novels or comic books. It's been said I have an interest in Trek RPGs. So, with my creds out of the way, here's my review.

Star Trek: Countdown is a prequel of sorts to the upcoming film, but takes place completely in the post-Nemesis Next Gen timeframe (Stardate 64333.4, or 2387, 8 years after Nemesis). Countdown is really the story of a Romulan named Nero, a hardworking family man who captains a mining vessel. After barely avoiding a stellar catastrophe, he returns to Romulus with a warning of the pending doom that threatens the entire Romulan Empire. When his fears are rejected, he decides to take on a mission to save his world with the help of some unlikely (and familiar) allies from the Federation. But events will not go as planned, great losses will be incurred, and a villain intent on utter vengeance will rise from the ashes.

Short spoiler-free review: STC is a pleasant, fairly compelling story with wonderful art by David Messina. The TPB includes 5 pages of character sketches by the artist (example left) that may not be included in Issue #4, which alone may make it worth picking up the TPB. Despite being intended as a direct prequel to the film, STC stands very well on its own right up to the non-cliffhanger ending. The best aspect of it is the "passing of the torch" feel because of the inclusion of many well-loved characters, undoing some damage inflicted by Nemesis. I found the quality of both the character art and the space battles to be exceptional, the best I've ever seen in a Trek comic. I can't judge how well it succeeds as a prequel at this point, but the story and some specifics in it do raise some questions about some pre-conceptions fans (including myself) have about the movie storyline. The series is let down, however, but some plot-holes and grade school science fiction that I sincerely hope are not going to creep into the film itself.

Some light spoilers follow, so if you want to be surprised, stop reading now.

I've seen some criticisms leveled at Messina's character art, but I found it to be very good. I'd buy more Trek comics if the quality of the art and story were as good as this. His renderings of Spock, in particular, are just excellent. If I have any criticism about the art, it's that the few female characters in the book all seem to suffer from BBS (Big Boob Syndrome). It's bad enough that there is really only one female character of consequence in the story, but the rest are just eye candy for the boys. The character sketch section in the back and Giovanna Niro's cover are wonderful.

As I indicated above, I thought the story was better than average. Despite the number of cameos (Spock, Data, Picard, Geordi, Worf, Remans and even a bit of Kirk), they didn't feel forced. It's good to see how the characters have moved up over the years, though there's really no time for development of anyone except Nero himself and, to some extent, Spock. The quiet moments are the best. Unfortunately, I feel that the story and Nero's progression is really let down by the contrived cataclysm of the Hobus system supernova. It's never explained how the explosion could possibly endanger Romulus so quickly, let alone Vulcan and the Federation, let alone the whole damn galaxy. And when Spock tells the Vulcan council, "It threatens the entire Universe," without any further explanation, it just goes from bad science fiction to stupid. It's like the danger keeps being exaggerated every few pages, to the point where you expect someone to say, "Even God Himself will disappear from Existence." Hopefully this is the conceit of writers Mike Johnson and Tim Jones, because I'd hate to see Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who provided the story itself) put this kind of crap science fiction into Star Trek. I also have to wonder about what seemed to me to be a big plot hole, specifically that if the danger to Romulus was so immediate, why in the world would Nero have left his family there?

But those are the only big weaknesses that jumped out at me. The fourth part does contain a (near death?) surprise that is left a bit unresolved, but I was impressed by how self-contained the story was because of the conclusion. Countdown could lead directly into the movie, or standalone on its own. It does seem to raise some questions about what I thought I had gleaned from the trailers and bits of gossip that have been discussed over the past year. For example if, in fact, we did see a glimpse of Nero in chains with Klingon captors in one of the early trailers, it's hard to reconcile that with the events of the comic. It's also difficult for me to guess how some of the background elements (Nero's fall, the destruction of Romulus, the Borgified Nerada, decalithium and red matter) will be incorporated into the movie without depending on the backstory presented in the book. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Taken as a whole, however, and as a way to distract myself from my own personal countdown to the movie (as my mother said today, "May can't come fast enough!"), STC TPB is a great little read, well worth the price. I wouldn't be at all disappointed to see the same team do more projects of this kind, as long as they do a little reading about basic science and astronomy first.


  1. Thank you for the beautiful words, Rob!
    I'm really flattered!


  2. Thank you, David, for the finest art I've seen in a Trek comic book. I'm looking forward to tracking down your previous titles like Klingons: Blood Will Tell.

    p.s. - LOVE the hot Romulan Scientist ;)