Sunday Funday: Star Trek “Countdown to Darkness” Comic Prequel

During the build-up to the 2009 JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, I was one of the haters. Star Trek is something that is nearly sacred to me and the idea that it should be “rebooted for the masses” pissed me off. I’m not saying it is necessarily a bad thing for Nerd Culture to become popular. I love the fact that The Avengers is the top third best grossing movie of all time, but the property shouldn’t be compromised or beaten into submission to make it palatable to the average joe, and that seemed to be the mission statement behind the Star Trek reboot.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie a lot, but I find it ironic that it had the most baggage of any of the Trek movies to come before. Sure, it helped to have seen “Space Seed” before watching “Wrath of Khan,” but it wasn’t at all necessary to enjoy the movie. Abrams’ Trek, on the other hand, spun a tortured plot in order to shoehorn Spock Prime into the movie and make the reboot part of the story. Star Trek and Doctor Who are two of the major staples of my Nerd diet, I’m used to timey-wimey multiverse shit, and even I thought the story behind Abrams’ Trek was a jumbled mess. Nonetheless, the movie did very well, but I think that’s because the average movie goer experience may have started with “What the hell is going on?” but that confusion was quickly swept away by “Ooooh, lens flare! Oh, snap. He’s hiding that green bitch under his bed! Oooh, people are shooting and shit is blowing up!” I think a clean break would have been better. But in the end, I bought tickets, I bought the Blu-Ray, I bought some of the toys, and I am very excited for the sequel. So, congratulations, Abrams. You win this round.

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Which brings me to how I spent a chunk of my weekend… reading IDW’s four-issue mini-series, “Countdown to Darkness,” a series designed to build up to the new movie. Normally, I don’t read movie-comic tie-ins. There are way too many unread comics on my nightstand to add more. Besides, generally speaking they just aren’t that good. But the rabid supporters of the first movie would have you believe that if you read the comic prequel, “Nero,” you could have better understood the story. Yes, folks, the alleged “reboot for the masses” required you to read comic books prior to seeing the movie to fully understand what was going on! Brilliant! But this time, I thought I’d give it a whirl, because it was only four comics and most importantly a friend of mine lent them to me so I didn’t have to buy them. So how is Countdown to Darkness? How about Countdown to my Ass!!! This thing sucked on every level.

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Where to begin? It’s years after the events of the first movie and the Enterprise has logged some time doing all the boring shit that we don’t want to see in a movie, like scanning gas clouds and mapping stars. They wind up at an undeveloped planet that’s inhabited by bug people and protected by the Prime Directive. Their mission is to scan it and move on, but Kirk is tired of sitting around and decides to beam down to look at stuff. I realize that Kirk has always played it fast and loose with regulations, but he usually does so for very good reasons, not because he’s tired of sitting on the bridge. It makes this Kirk look like a whiny, spoiled brat who is willing to risk violating the cornerstone of Federation Law just because he’s bored. It’s a different Kirk, fair enough. But if I’m going to see movies about him, I need to like him, and I don’t like the Kirk in this book. Hey Starfleet, this is what you get when you recruit your commanding officers from drunks in bars.

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Of course, they wind up getting in the middle of a Civil War between two factions on the planet only to learn that the former Captain of the former Enterprise, Robert April, is stirring up the shit and that he’s in league with a femme fatale gunrunner, who happens to be the daughter of Harry Mudd. This is not professional comic book writing, this is late night Internet fanwank in its most basest of forms. But I’m more concerned with the continuity established here. There was another Enterprise 20 years before this one… and in the flashback panel it looks exactly the same as the one in the movie??? And I loved Robert April. I read two of the novels he appeared in. “Final Frontier” and “Best Destiny” were awesome. Now he’s a shitbag and we’re treated to snotty little Kirk lecturing him. Sigh. Anyway, April and Mudd take over The Enterprise and offer it up to the Klingons as compensation if they agree to name April the Governor of the planet and run it as part of the Klingon Empire. Holy shit, what? What? WHAT????? At that point, I had to stop and coif an entire tumbler full of Jameson.

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The real reason this mini-series got any notoriety is that it promised a sneak peak at the Abramsverse Klingons that we see ever so briefly (and tiny) in the trailer. The smart ones will just look at the cover to issue number four and be done with it. But, no. By now I’ve suffered through three issues of this dreck, featuring the whole rogue Captain who disagrees with the Prime Directive, which we’ve seen a hundred times before. Might as well keep going! In issue four the Klingons finally show up. They’re wearing battle helmets, they bluster, and they (*gasp!*) betray April. Kirk and Spock storm the bridge and Scotty resolves everything by rebooting (oh sweet irony!) the Enterprise so that Kirk can turn tail and warp away. April is in custody, Starfleet tells Kirk to dump him at a Starbase and forget about the entire thing, and in the last panels we’re treated to John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch in the film) accessing a computer in London. If that last bit is the only reason that this whole god-awful mess is an actual tie-in to the movie, it would be a crime for people who bought the comic for that very purpose. On the other hand, I hope it is the only tie-in, because if any of this other bullshit works its way into the movie, I’ll be seriously pissed off. Ultimately, I imagine that Harrison’s motivation for his terrorism will be because he disagrees with The Prime Directive and that will be the tie-in. We’ll see!

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Ok, so let’s quickly talk contributors. I’m not going to rag on writer Mike Johnson too much. I don’t know how much of this mess was forced on him by Roberto Orci to shoehorn it into a prequel, but I suspect it was a lot of it. Then again, Johnson’s resume doesn’t have a lot of noteworthy books in it. But hey, I guess you have to start somewhere. Besides a story that reads like bad fan-fiction, most of the dialogue just doesn’t suit the characters. Indeed, really the only writing that I found worthwhile was April’s monologue about The Prime Directive in issue four, as it was actually extremely well-written and even quotable. But even in the face of a good argument, Kirk just dismisses him as being crazy because he’s been away from Earth too long. HUH? And then just a few pages later he tells Spock that April made some good points. HUH????? Everybody wants to serve under Captain Indecisive… No way that’s going to get us killed at some point! At least it’s good to know this will continue to be the creative team behind IDW’s Star Trek ongoing book, as they will be adapting Original Series scripts into the Abramsverse. I can save a lot of time and money by not reading that book. Of course, if anyone is reading Ongoing and wants to convince me otherwise, feel free to have at it!

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As for the art, it’s passable, but nothing spectacular. There’s little resemblance in most of the portraits, but Kirk in particular looks nothing like Chris Pine to me. Some of the backgrounds are ok, particularly the bridge, but the Enterprise itself looks like minimalist garbage and if we see a Bird of Prey in the film, I hope to hell it doesn’t look like the piece of shit drawn in the comic. But, hey… lens flare! There’s plenty of lens flare! Just try comparing this book to some of the stuff coming out of Marvel and DC right now and it looks like hack work by comparison. It’s not to single out this book, I find it’s the case with a lot of IDW’s books (not including GI JOE). Hey, IDW… you need to open up that checkbook and get some noteworthy artists on the payroll! I usually pride myself on my comic book chops, and while the name David Messina was familiar, I couldn’t place him. A quick trip to Wiki reminded me that… yep, he did “Nero” the mini-series leading up to the 2009 Trek film. Apparently, he also did some Angel comics and… I shit you not… a bunch of “erotic parodies” including one of Harry Potter. Folks, it’s going to take half a bottle of Jameson to wash that out of my brain.

Ok so Sunday Funday wasn’t all that fun today. Unlike 90% of the Internet, I really don’t enjoy hating on stuff, but there was just nothing to enjoy here, and I’m kind of pissed at myself for taking the time out from reading the good stuff on my pile and detouring into this drainage ditch of a mini-series.

Ah well, I’m still really looking forward to the movie next month!

Images used are the copyright of IDW Publishing and are reproduced here for review purposes only. If you love comic books, support the artists and writers by BUYING them, either digitally or in print. Better yet, buy them in print and support your local comic shop too!

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