Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Read It Then See It: Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #1

February 11, 2013

Okay, I know I said I was doing magic next, but I just realized that the comic book series that leads up to the new Star Trek movie just started.  I was very impressed with the Star Trek: Countdown series that predicated the 2009 film, as it really helped to ground this new iteration within Star Trek lore and give the whole plot and villain a little more depth.  So now that we’re firmly planted in this new JJ Abramsverse (at least until he leaves for a galaxy far, far away) I thought it would be interesting to see how they’re teeing up this summer sci-fi tent pole.

star-trek-countdown-to-darkness-1(Comic) Book
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #1.  Story by Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson, art by David Messina

The Movie
Star Trek: Into Darkness, Paramount. Release Date, May 17, 2013.

Genre
Science Fiction

Age Appropriate
8 and up.  While things go boom, even what might be considered scary is bloodless and tame.  It is not a dialogue-heavy comic, but Mr. Spock does like to use those big ole’ science-y words.  If bug-like aliens will freak your little guy or gal out, this may also not be your best bet, though we’re talking more ant-like than giant killer spider, here.

Good for Grown-Ups?
Yes.  A light read, but some good warm-up action for the movie and a solid first issue.

Book Availability
I just downloaded it from iBooks for $3.99.  Frankly, it felt a little pricey to me for a 22 page comic book that was a little light on dialogue.  Oh, for the large turning racks of 25 cent comic books at the local drug store of yesteryear…  The physical comic book was not available at my local Barnes and Noble, though I’d guess the full compilation will be available wherever you can get graphic novels when the series is completed.

Quickie Plot Synopsis (minor spoilers)
Several months after the events of Star Trek (2009), Captain Kirk and the Enterprise have been on numerous missions exploring strange new worlds, but this isn’t your father’s Trek.

Better than the dream where you have to repeat high school geometry, though.

Better than the dream where you have to repeat high school geometry, though.

The trauma of Nero’s genocide on Vulcan haunts Spock, and the brash young Captain Kirk chafes from the solitude and unexpected restraints of command.  Their internal battles seem to have an impact on their relationship, as the strain between Spock’s caution and Kirk’s impulsiveness are clearly evident as they arrive at the planet Phadeus.

Kirk is desperate to “stretch his legs” and take a peek at this pre-industrial civilization, but Spock is absolutely adamant that the Prime Directive—that the Federation make no contact with a civilization until it has achieved faster-than-light space travel—be strictly adhered to.

Just when Kirk is about to defer to Spock, an energy pulse from the planet disrupts the Enterprise’s communications and transporter capabilities.  Kirk notes that the Prime Directive no longer applies, as an energy pulse of that sort could not come from a pre-industrial civilization.  Someone has been tampering on Phadeus.

Kirk, Spock, and Sulu take a shuttlecraft down to the planet, and quickly learn how right Kirk was…the hard way.  And when they discover who has been at work down on the planet, they find it comes in the form of a very familiar face (at least to Star Trek nerds like me).

Quickie Review (minor spoilers)
As I noted, I wouldn’t put this comic in the “Best Value” bin, but it’s a fun little read.  I have not been following the ongoing comic book series created by publisher IDW that has continued the new voyages of the starship Enterprise, but this one does a nice job helping to keep from falling into the “well, they’re together now, so they’re just like they were in the original series.”

The key dynamic that’s different here is Kirk and Spock.  While there is an undercurrent of respect between the two of them, the implicit trust and friendship we are used to with these characters is not there.  Where in TOS, Kirk spent time balancing Spock’s logic and McCoy’s humanity, here Kirk seems more comfortable making decisions based on his own instinct and Spock is attempting to reel him in.

When old school Kirk broke the Prime Directive, he did it with style.

When old school Kirk broke the Prime Directive, he did it with style.

The other fun part of this issue is its focus on the Prime Directive.  This is a Star Trek cornerstone: Thou Shalt Not Muck With Developing Civilizations.  This is territory that has been very well covered in pretty much every iteration of Trek, but not so much with the prism of a post-9/11 society.  A core question raised here is how much in the wake of the Trek equivalent of 9/11—the Narada attack on the Federation—has the Federation itself changed.  Are the ideals of a society that has conquered its own biases, that seeks out new civilizations peacefully and in a spirit of cooperation, still what rule the day?  Or have the scars from Nero changed this Federation into something different—something darker.  The appearance of an old character at the very end of the issue—one with a personal connection to the Enterprise—begs this very question.

But, while I understand this is a comic book, and only the first of the four issue set, I felt like it was fairly thin.  I would have enjoyed seeing more of the dynamic between Kirk and Spock work its way out, or perhaps some dialogue between some of the secondary characters giving insight into how the ship is running in this new reality.  Given we have so many assumptions coming in based on the crew we knew from the 1960s, I felt that I wanted another 4-5 pages of “catch-up” to feel comfortable when they jump into the meat of the story.

The artwork was solid, though at times I found the characters alternatively looking very much like their live-action counterparts in one panel then virtually nothing like them in the next.

Overall Read Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Opportunities for Discussion
Some nerdy and actually not-so-nerdy opportunities crop up in this issue.  Let me turn to my strength and go nerd first.

The Prime Directive: In the 1960s, The Prime Directive was an analogy to colonization or developed nations muscling developing countries into their particular political/economic/development track.  It was a great Cold War device to use to discuss perceptions of power relationships and what “civilized” society would do.  In the age of global terrorism and uneven, but nearly ubiquitous technological dissemination, the Prime Directive may mean something very different now.  Is the Prime Directive a vestige of a time when developed nations felt “paternal” to less developed ones?  And when those lesser developed nations can become a harbor for those that would mean to do us harm, should it still apply?

Losing a planet sucks, but losing a friend...

Losing a planet sucks, but losing a friend…

The Power of Personal Tragedy: Spock’s ongoing difficulty in handling what happened in the first Star Trek film hits front-and-center here.  And while, yes, the destruction of his planet that was most obviously traumatic, it was his failure to save his mother that he simply can’t seem to get over.  Why in a world that has so much loss does some get raised over others?  The immensity of the tragedy in Syria puts what happened in Newtown to shame, yet America seems changed forever by that tragedy and is seemingly unfazed by the civil war in that far-off nation.  What kind of tragedy overwhelms us in grief?  What kind motivates us to action?  What makes us push the tragedy away from us?  What does that say about us as individuals?  As humans?

Overall Family Discussion Score: 4 out of 5 stars.

What to Expect from the Movie
Star Trek Into Darkness Poster 2Well, golly, I’m just not sure.  I must admit that I’m a little more concerned about this one than I was the last.  Both the “Into Darkness” title and the fact that the secret bad guy being played by Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch is reported to be a terrorist is making me feel a bit worried that Abrams is going all Battlestar Galactica with this film.

What made me enjoy the first film so much was that under the big action was a message that felt very Trek to me.  The old Spock’s failure to stop Romulus from being destroyed represented the failure of the 60’s generation to create the better world of Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry envisioned.  But that core of hope, that we can better ourselves and get past our own hate and weakness, the core that is Star Trek, is still very valid.  And so a new generation is handed that sacred trust to attempt to boldly go where no one has gone before.

If they instead make this into more of a straight “Old Star Trek was the 1960s, this is 2013” then we’ll get yet another gritty space drama where the line between good and evil are hopelessly muddled.  While there’s nothing wrong with that kind of complexity, that to me robs Star Trek of what makes it special.  Star Trek, even at its most dark, has been about our never-ending struggle, and ultimate triumph, to be better than we are today.  While from the Borg to the Dominion, different writers have found clever ways to implant doubt and challenge whether a better humanity is truly suited for the stars, the underlying promise of a hopeful future was never in question.  As I watch and hear what they have in store, I worry if that central premise might be lost in the effort to tell a more “contemporary” tale.

I hope I’m wrong, because, frankly, there’s already more than enough darkness to go around these days.