Ten years ago, J.J. Abrams changed the Star Trek franchise forever with the 2009 film of the same name, which, thanks to its time-traveling antagonist Nero (Eric Bana), was both a reboot of the original ’60s TV series and a sequel to 2002’s Next Generation finale Star Trek Nemesis. With the film’s tenth anniversary and the forthcoming return of Jean-Luc Picard on CBS All Access later this year, let’s take a look at how IDW Publishing bridged the gap with its four-issue prequel comic, “Star Trek: Countdown.”
Written by Mike Johnson & Tim Jones
Art by David Messina
Colored by Giovanna Niro, Paolo Maddaleni and Messina
Lettered by Chris Mowry, Robert Robbins, and Neil Uyetake
Edited by Andy Schmidt and Scott Dunbier
The exclusive comics prequel to Star Trek, the blockbuster film from Paramount Pictures! JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman present the origin of Nero, the mysterious Romulan who will ultimately threaten the survival of the entire universe.
As formidable as he was, Nero was a pretty two-dimensional villain. For those who need a refresher, Nero was the captain of the formidable mining ship Narada, who lost his wife and unborn child after the Romulan homeworld was destroyed by a supernova. Blaming Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who promised to stop the supernova but arrived too late to prevent Romulus’s destruction, Nero intercepted the venerable Vulcan, but his ship was pulled into the black hole Spock detonated to contain the supernova before it could spread further. Nero arrived 154 years into the past, where he continued seeking revenge on the younger Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the Federation.
Writers Mike Johnson and Tim Jones fleshed out Nero’s enmity with Spock by establishing the two were political allies, who recognized the bizarrely volatile Hobus star was a far more urgent threat to the Romulan Empire than the Senate wanted to believe. Nero’s characterization as a simple miner wary of these elite, bickering big league politicians (Romulan and Federation) isn’t that much deeper than the classic stereotype of a paranoid Romulan, but it rationalizes his Ahab-esque obsession with Spock, and his transformation from a family man to vengeful mass murderer is a compelling throughline. In one of the comic’s best moments, it’s revealed the distinctive tattoos and shaved heads of Nero and his crew are permanent mourning rituals. As this beautiful narration puts it:
There was a tradition on Romulus that when a loved one died… you would paint your grief upon your skin. Ancient symbols of love and loss. In time the paint would fade, and with it the period of mourning. We paint those symbols on our skin now. But we burn them deep, so that they will never fade. Because life does not go on. We died with our friends. We died with our families. We died with Romulus. And all that is left is revenge.
Full credit must be given to the letterers on rendering that haunting descent into nihilism (especially for having the lines about “friends” and “families” fit into the same box). Still, this series isn’t titled “Star Trek: Nero” (that was the subsequent tie-in): this was also a story about Nimoy’s Spock reuniting with the Next Generation cast one last time before he joined Abrams’s reboot. With no films being made after Nemesis, Johnson and Jones got to reintroduce TNG characters in ways that actually acknowledged the passing of time in ways their movies never did: a resurrected Data is now captain of the Enterprise, Picard became the Federation ambassador to Vulcan, La Forge has retired to become a ship designer, and Worf is a general in the Klingon Defense Force. It might feel contrived, especially with Data and Worf’s dramatic entrances at the end of the first and third chapters, but you have to admire the writers’ restraint in not bringing in Riker and Troi, so the universe doesn’t feel like it’s completely collapsed in on itself.
Messina’s sumptuous art is a feast for the eyes. With his heavily screen accurate renderings of the characters, locations and ships, as well as the black gutters, he absolutely sells the feeling we’re in a theater watching a filmed prelude to the movie. The coloring leaves more to be desired: initially, it’s as vibrant as the movie, but oddly muted too, especially in settings like Vulcan you expect to be more hot colored.Continued below
As the story turns dark and violent, so does the coloring, vacillating wildly between hot and cold colors – which is strange, as the Narada‘s interiors had a sickly green lighting scheme in the movie. It’s a storytelling decision made all the more bizarre by introducing the Narada as a normal Romulan mining ship with that interior lighting, and then revealing the version in the film is retrofitted with modified Borg technology, whose signature color is also green. But overall, you could really tell “Countdown” was a Big Deal for IDW and Paramount, and that it was a big budget project: so much so, newcomers to comics who started reading here were probably spoiled by its cinematic visuals.
Ten years later, “Countdown” is a gripping, thrilling and gorgeous prequel to the movie, and a satisfying stopgap before the next chapter of Picard’s life. It also succeeds on its own terms as a Star Trek story, with its depiction of interstellar politicians behaving stubbornly in the face of mutual annihilation having somehow become more urgent in 2019. With climate change ravaging the Midwestern United States, Canada, Africa, Brazil and Iran, let’s just hope events don’t become as desperate as they do in this comic.