Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just As The Sequel Is Underwhelming, So Too Is The Graphic Novel Prequel: Countdown To Darkness

The Good: Moments of character, Plot concept
The Bad: Light on character work, Artwork, In-jokes do not pop.
The Basics: The graphic novel prequel to Star Trek Into Darkness, Countdown To Darkness details the Mudd Incident alluded to in the film and sets up the tone of the new film well, but stands on its own poorly.

As audiences flock to Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!) this weekend and before a bunch of irate people demand their money back, devotees of the Trek have another chance to be financially exploited in relation to the film! Just as Star Trek (reviewed here!) was given a loose prequel in graphic novel form, with Star Trek: Countdown (reviewed here!), Star Trek Into Darkness has been granted its own graphic novel prequel. That book is Countdown To Darkness and while it actually has some admirable qualities, it is not worth shelling out $17.99 for (as I did yesterday!).

On the plus side, Countdown To Darkness does establish several of the thematic beats that dominate the motivation of the real villain in Star Trek Into Darkness. Countdown To Darkness tries to bridge the year between Star Trek and the comic book (and trade paperback anthology) stories that lead up to Star Trek Into Darkness and it does that fairly, though this book does not lead into the film as directly as Star Trek Countdown did. Instead, this is another adventure of the U.S.S. Enterprise and while the film focuses very tightly on Captain Kirk, Countdown To Darkness gives Spock the spotlight for the bulk of the volume.

When the Enterprise approaches Phaedus for a scouting mission, Spock is plagued by nightmares of Vulcan’s destruction and Kirk is feeling restless as well. Given that the Prime Directive applies to the life forms on Phaedus, Spock is predictably cautious about Kirk’s desire to actually go planetside on the primitive planet. Despite it not being ready for first contact, there is an energy spike from Phaedus that draws the crew’s attention and Spock, Sulu, Kirk, and a red shirt take a shuttle down to the planet. Unfortunately, the ship is shot down using weapons the primitive people should not possess and the when Kirk and Spock go in search of the source of the advanced weaponry, they make a shocking discovery.

Living on Phaedus is Robert April, former Captain of the former Enterprise, logged as dead over a decade before. April brings Kirk and Spock to his people, who are at war with the Shadows (black Phaedans who have advanced weaponry and have captured Sulu and the security officer). In rescuing the officers, April explains that the Prime Directive does not apply because the Shadows have been given advanced technology from an outside source, so his involvement is only balancing the equation. April’s supplier, a young woman named Mudd, arrives and Uhura takes her ship into custody. After Spock rescues Sulu from the Shadows, April returns to the Enterprise where he uses an embedded code to take control of the computer and Kirk and Spock must work together to regain control of the Enterprise and stave off a Klingon attack at the same time.

Outside the remarkably clever allusion to Section 31, which sets up the film nicely, Countdown To Darkness does not have any in-jokes or allusions that really pop. Instead, the references to other Trek works fall remarkably flat. The fact that Mudd is, apparently, Harry Mudd’s daughter and half-Bajoran is hardly clever. The inclusion of Kor as the Klingon who is dealing with Robert April lacks resonance because the character is virtually a non-entity in this book.

Add to that, Countdown To Darkness has thoroughly underwhelming artwork. Most of the characters are recognizable, but they have an underdeveloped quality that looks more like a comic strip than a graphic novel. The coloring for the book is slightly faded and not nearly as distinctive as most comic books.

Even so, writers Mike Johnson and Roberto Orci (though given how he is credited, one suspects Johnson bears the lion’s share of the praise for this) do a decent job of getting Kirk’s voice right. The writing pops in an auditory way so that Kirk sounds like Chris Pine’s Kirk. As well, the book is not entirely devoid of character. Spock and Uhura are wrestling with issues in their relationship which, unfortunately for the same in Star Trek Into Darkness, are nominally resolved by the end of this book. The idea that Spock is wrestling with heavy, complex emotions is a good one and well-executed in Countdown To Darkness. That his feelings over the loss of Vulcan creates a rift between him and Uhura is very real and well-executed.

For other Star Trek graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
Debt Of Honor
The Best Of Peter David
Death Before Dishonor
The Trial Of James T. Kirk


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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