Posts Tagged ‘star trek into darkness’

Read It Then See It: Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #3-4

April 12, 2013

So, here’s my take on the conclusion of the lead-up series to the summer blockbuster.  Here are my reviews of the first and second issues.

Star Trek Into Darkness 4The (Comic) Book
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #3-4.  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
9 and up.  I’ll keep it here because of the first two, but the final two issues are actually far more violence-free than the first two and would probably be okay for even younger kids, more in the 8 and up range.

Good for Grown-Ups?
Not for anyone, actually.  I guess I’m giving away my review a bit, but from plot to artwork, I found these final two issues a waste of time and money.  Actually, more than that, but I’ll get to that below.

Book Availability
I downloaded these from iTunes for $3.99 each.  But if you really want to read them, the whole compilation is now available for $3.99.  That’s far more reasonable for this product.

Quickie Plot Synopsis (spoilers, but no spoilers regarding the film)
We pick up issue 3 with Sulu and his doomed colleague in the red shirt held hostage in the camp of the Shadows.  Sulu, always with the penchant for having a blade, pulls a hidden knife out of his shoe and unties them, just as Spock is running headlong to their rescue.

The Bajoran nose ridges on Mudd were admittedly a nice little Trek nerd touch

The Bajoran nose ridges on Mudd were admittedly a nice little Trek nerd touch

Meanwhile, Kirk and April continue their debate over whether the Prime Directive should be broken to save the Phadians, and what to do about Spock going all renegade.  Uhura comes down with a woman named Mudd (seems the daughter of TOS’s Harry Mudd) who is running guns for April.  Together, they all fly the shuttlecraft at the Shadows and manage to save all the humanoids and take them back to the Enterprise.

Back aboard the ship, April reveals that he knows it was the Klingons who are arming the Shadows, using them as a proxy rather than conquering the planet and draining the empire’s resources.  Kirk and Spock have it out regarding Spock’s near suicidal tendencies to rush into dangerous situations these days with a disregard for chain of command.  Spock says he’s sorry.

But while Kirk and Spock are having their moment, April and Mudd are hatching their scheme.  It seems that April’s Enterprise had a hidden program that only he could activate to keep all command and control under his authorization.  And somehow that program made it aboard this Enterprise.  He clears the bridge and locks out all other commands.  The Enterprise is his to do what he will, including starting a war with the Klingons.

In issue 4 we begin on the Klingon homeworld.  April is bargaining with them to turn over the Enterprise in return for being made governor of Phadeus under Klingon control.  He sees this as the only way to save his people from the shadows.

Kirk and Spock attempt unsuccessfully to get back to the bridge through the ducts, but just as a Klingon ship shows up to take April up on his offer, Scotty does the ole’ CTRL-ALT-DEL on the warp core and reboots everything.  Spock and Kirk break into the bridge and stun Mudd and April, and high-tail it out of there, leaving the Klingons in control of Phadeus.

Kirk expresses frustration with the Prime Directive and sympathy for Aprils ends, if not his means.  He then has a testy conversation with Admiral Pike about wanting to get to the bottom of why that computer program was still on the Enterprise.  Pike tells him that it’s for Starfleet Intelligence to work out, and he’s got to remember who his real enemies are.  Just at that moment, in London, a man named John Harrison is granted access to the Starfleet Data Archive.

To be continued May 17…

Quickie Review (more minor spoilers)
After being SO impressed with the second issue, I cannot tell you how much in pained me to read the sloppy, incomprehensible drivel that the final two issues brought forth.  Unlike Star Trek: Countdown, the preview series to the 2009 movie, where I felt excited and enriched, at the end of this series I felt like I had just been ripped off. Spock’s very interesting motivation for violating Kirk’s wishes and running off at the Shadows was whitewashed into a very thin “I have to save people” rather than have him being a more forceful advocate against genocide.  His logic seems not only confused, but almost entirely absent.

Kirk and Spock’s relationship is tense and uninteresting, hardy seeming to have grown at all since the events of the first film.  The method for April to take control of the Enterprise is ridiculous, as is the use of their being absolutely no discernible chain of command on the Enterprise to offer comic relief. McCoy’s small role painted him some kind of power-thirsty goofball that also seemed entirely out of character.  Only Uhura and Scotty’s roles seemed on point here.

If they were going to rip off TOS, they could at least have given us some classic Mugato action.

If they were going to rip off TOS, they could at least have given us some classic Mugato action.

The plot itself devolved into a poor man’s version of the TOS episode A Private Little War, where Kirk is forced to match technologies with what the Klingons are offering to create a stalemate on a contested planet.  It was far more expertly put together than this was, as April’s offer to turn the Enterprise over to the Klingons—the very people who armed the Shadows—seemed so far afield that it made a very interesting premise laughable.  Given his disgust over what had happened, and his control of a Starship that could have obliterated the Shadows from orbit, this concept was asinine beyond words.

And the end, essentially ceding the genocide and the planet to the Klingons to avoid a wider war was just the kind of “morally neutral” concepts that I was most afraid of.  Star Trek is about finding that right path, about finding solutions to problems.  The crews were not always successful, but their heart was in the right place.  This book was all about the “there is no right” and the infinite shades of gray in the spectrum of wrong.  If well told, stories like that can be interesting.  But it isn’t Star Trek, even if you call the pirate Mudd and the Klingon Kor.  This was both poorly told, and not Star Trek.

I hope the one in the movie looks better, that's for sure.

I hope the one in the movie looks better, that’s for sure.

On top of the poor plot and writing, I was similarly unimpressed with the artwork in these two issues. It almost felt like they were in a hurry to get these done and so the overall quality of everything slipped.  Gus and I joked that in one scene, Kirk looks like a six-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.  And the look of the new Klingon cruiser, looks like something Gunnar might have made out of a loose set of Legos.

Overall Read Score: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Opportunities for Discussion
“Wow, how bad was that?”

Overall Family Discussion Score: 0 out of 5 stars.

What to Expect from the Movie

Great, Star Trek is borrowing from thoughtful classics like GI Joe: Retaliation now

Great, Star Trek is borrowing from thoughtful classics like GI Joe: Retaliation now

I wish I could slingshot myself around the sun and go back in time to keep myself from pushing “buy” on my iPad.  Because I am now more convinced than ever that if this teases the tone of the upcoming film, my Star Trek is dead.  In its place is nothing but the familiar uniforms and names to cover a story that will unravel what Gene Roddenberry set to create half-a-century ago.  The vision of a better earth, a better us will be nothing more than a platform for telling a shoot-‘em-up thriller resplendent with moral relativism.

I am now genuinely worried that Star Trek: Into Darkness will be boldly going nowhere.  Instead of being a beacon we need of a brighter future and using the challenges and complexities of dealing with strange new worlds as allegory for our own struggles, it will instead smash that beacon and pull us down into the blackness of the human soul, telling us that no matter how advanced our technology gets, deep down we’re the same old flawed and bloodthirsty humans that we always were.

I’m not sure if that’s a trek worth taking.

Read It Then See It: Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #2

March 1, 2013

Well, Gus is having his first day back in school (crossed-fingers).  So of course, I spend my first hours alone doing what?  Reading a comic book, of course!  Oh, and for continuity, here is my review on the first issue of this series.

Star-Trek_Countdown-to-Darkness_2The (Comic) Book
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #2.  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
9 and up.  I added a year on here as there is a particular scene where (SPOILER) one of the Phadians are pretty savagely beheaded (END SPOILER).  Frankly, I didn’t feel that particular image was needed to make the point, but it’s there and so it may not be appropriate for younger children.

Good for Grown-Ups?
Yes.  Far more interesting and tight storytelling than the first issue.  Good action, but far more importantly, a very interesting dilemma put to Captain Kirk.

Book Availability
Once again, I downloaded this from iTunes for $3.99.  Again no sign of the comics at my local bookstores, though I’d guess the compilation will be there once it comes out.  BUT, I did note that once the NEXT issue of the comic comes out, the price of the previous issue DROPS to $1.99.  So if you’re willing to wait a bit, you’ll get yourself a bargain (relatively speaking).  Issue 3 is supposed to come out on March 13.

Quickie Plot Synopsis (minor spoilers—more than minor if you haven’t read issue #1)
And so we pick up with Kirk and Spock surrounded by light blue Phadians (I’m assuming that’s what they’d be called, as they’re actually not aliens.  In this case, the humans are the aliens) and a former Captain of a starship Enterprise, Robert April.

Kirk seems skeptical, but probably because the aliens aren't green, scantily clad women.

Kirk seems skeptical, but probably because the aliens aren’t green, scantily clad women.

We find out that some two decades ago, April, in command of the previous Enterprise, discovered that the blue Phadians were being exterminated by an aggressive subsect of their kind called the Shadows.  It was a classic and brutal case of genocide.  April decided that, in this case, he could not let the Prime Directive stand in the way of saving an entire race.  So he “went native” and his First Officer and friend covered his tracks.

Before Kirk and Spock can get back to their shuttle and crew, the Shadows attack and drive them and April deep into the catacombs where the last of the blue Phadians reside.  It seems that once April introduced advanced technology to this war, someone else jumped in quickly to assist the Shadows.  Their forces were now poised for a final offensive to complete the genocide that they started.

As April, Kirk, and Spock debate the morality of the Prime Directive, one of them slip off, and head, fully armed, toward the Shadow army.  Who it is, however, might come as a bit of a surprise.

Quickie Review (same spoiler level as above)
I liked the first one just fine, but I felt at 22 pages it was a bit thin.  It’s funny, because even though this one is also 22 pages, it felt like SO much more.

The plot itself was very rich, as it really tackled the moral ambiguity that goes along with the Prime Directive.  This issue speaks volumes to current issues, as the technologically sophisticated United States has the ability, as we did in Libya, to play a decisive role in deciding a civil war.  Yet, in cases such a Rwanda in the 1990s, we did nothing and allowed a genocide to happen.  When is it right to interfere in the affairs of other nations?  That, on a planetary scale, is what’s being debated here.

Spock's messed up, but does that mean that the Spock we knew is entirely gone?

Spock’s messed up, but does that mean that the Spock we knew is entirely gone?

A couple more fun things happen here, as we continue to get a different feel for this Spock.  I’m not sure I like it, as the more I see, the more different he becomes from the Spock I grew up with an idolized.  In some ways, it definitely makes for an interesting juxtaposition, but I’m afraid that the scars of Vulcan’s destruction might actually serve to limit the character’s growth as everything seems to revolve around that now.

It was also fun to see Uhura in command of the Enterprise, as this new generation of our intrepid crew break from the shackles of the glass ceilings of the ‘60s.  However, I really did not like the way McCoy was written, as his interaction with Uhura made him seem power-hungry and scheming, which is completely against type.

I also found it unfortunate that the art of the old Enterprise wasn’t more “old school.”  My understanding is that their original idea for opening the movie in 2009 was to have the Enterprise under April’s command, looking just like it did in the original series, come into contact with the Narada.  I think that would have been amazing, and they could have nodded to that here by drawing his Enterprise more like the one from TOS.

That said, there was a nice drawing of an old-school looking tricorder, and both a race and a name from Star Trek of old that was fun to see.  In all, a very strong issue both for the Trek novice and nerds like me.

Overall Read Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Opportunities for Discussion
As you might expect, this issue really expands upon the last one.  So what I noted in issue #1 definitely still applies here.  But there is one very large new issue that’s a doozy of a discussion point:

An amazing and haunting book on Rwanda–well worth a read

Genocide: Perhaps one of the most difficult issues for humanity, as we have yet to overcome as a species the drive to exterminate entire peoples simply for what they are.  In this issue of the comic, we have the Shadows painted as nothing but bad guys.  I’ll be curious if they stick there in that “comfortable dilemma” of whether good guys should go in and get the bad guys even if it doesn’t seem to be their business, or whether they’ll open up the Shadows a bit more.  As, of course, the “We were just following orders” is also one of the great debates over what to do in the face of, and the aftermath of, genocide.

As difficult as this issue can be, however, it can also be used as more of a personal allegory to cases of racism, bigotry, and bullying.  Is it always the right thing to do to get yourself involved when you see someone else doing something wrong?  If you see injustice, is it better to involve yourself as an advocate for the one being abused, or an arbiter to help diffuse the situation?  April leaped in as a defender, not doing anything to even try to see if he could change the situation without taking sides.  Was that the right thing for him to do?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it sure is interesting to talk about.

Overall Family Discussion Score: 5 out of 5 stars.

What to Expect from the Movie

Eh, go play with your Death Star

Oh, go play with your Death Star already

I wish I could say that issue #2 made me feel a little less nervous about what to expect from the movie, but it didn’t.  I think the issue itself is great Trek, but I remember in the Star Trek: Countdown series before the 2009 film, there were wonderful, Trek-like allusions and discussions, but because the film was intended for an audience that had no familiarity with Star Trek, little-to-none of that was included in the picture itself.

I have to say that perhaps a little bit of more worry comes from feeling 2nd best now that JJ Abrams has taken on Star Wars.  It’s not that he’s doing the new movies—that’s fine by me.  It’s that when he agreed to take it on, he said, “I can just say what I want to do: I want to do the fans proud.”  Given his quote while making Trek 2009 was “I’m not making this for the fans,” I still continue to be concerned that while he enjoys the Star Trek characters, he does not seem to really enjoy the core of Roddenberry’s vision.

Yes, yes.  I’ll try to remove the Tauntaun-sized chip from my shoulder before I see the movie in May…

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.