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Exclusive: Countdown Writers Talk Nero, Star Trek Movie, Prequel Comic & more

"Star Trek: Countdown" is the official prequel comic for the new Star Trek movie, with two issues of the four issue series released so far. Countdown writers Mike Johnson and Tim Jones talked about the series at a panel at Wondercon over the weekend. TrekMovie has a report from that appearance plus an exclusive follow-up interview full of information on both the comics and the movie. [COMIC and MOVIE spoilers below]

 

IDW Movie tie-in Panel – Countdown portion transcript
IDW’s Wondercon panel on movie-tie ins comics included "Star Trek Countdown" writers Tim Jones and Mike Johnson. The pair spoke about the genesis of "Star Trek Countdown" and how it ties the movie to the TNG era. Here is a transcript of their portion of the panel.  

Mike Johnson: We both work for Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci, so when they were talking about what we can do to do something special, they were talking about something that would honor The Next Generation cast. We are all huge fans and grew up on Next Gen, we are huge fanboys. We found out a way to connect The Next Generation cast to the movie that is coming out and you are going to see exactly how that happens in Issue 4 and the beginning of the movie. Issue 4 of this series literally is a cliffhanger and it is going to continue in the first minutes in the film. And we were lucky enough to be able to have Alex and Bob right there to guide us and make sure it flowed seamlessly and they were very much involved in the comic.

And IDW has done a phenomenal job bringing it to life. We got very lucky to have David Messina draw the book. People who have seen the first two issues, his work speaks for itself, it is amazing. Just looking at these cover images alone you can see how good he is at capturing likenesses of the characters, this is phenomenal.

Tim Jones: Part of the movie will take place in the Next Generation universe, so that is how we decided to tie it in. It has been really fun.

Mike Johnson: We sort of said goodbye to The Next Generation cast in the finale of the show and the movies. But that doesn’t end very well and what we are doing is keeping these characters alive and it is not really a ‘so long everybody’ wrap up in any sense. They are very active participants in any sense. And you will see that in issue 4, that it ends on a real cliffhanger. It is not a big weepy farewell to The Next Generation cast, they are part of the action, they are very much involved in it. They are actually really responsible and important for things we see played out in the movie. So they play a real role in that. Bob and Alex really wanted to make sure that was the case. 

[NOTE: It was this discussion of TNG characters in the Countdown series and how the series related to the film that prompted an audience member to ask if there would be any "surprise appearances" in the new Star Trek movie. And Tim’s response of "I can’t really can’t say anything about that." which kicked of the Internet rumor that TNG characters may be the movie, unfortunately they wont.]


Mike Johnson and Tim Jones after the Star Trek panel

Interview with Mike Johnson & Tim Jones
Immediately after the panel, I sat down with Johnson and Jones to talk about the comic, the movie and more.

TrekMovie: First, can you talk about your writing background before working on Countdown?

Mike: I worked on film production and development for ten years and have been working for Alex and Bob for almost three. Separately I started co-writing Superman and Batman for DC almost two years ago, so it was a perfect dovetailing since they wanted to do a comic, it was a natural fit. And we were doing a Fringe comic at the same time so it worked very well.

Tim: I have worked with them for a long time, I worked with them back on Jack of All Trades, a TV show they worked on before Alias, a long long time ago. Great show with Bruce Campbell, got to write one of those episodes with them and have been working with them off and on every since.

Mike: Tim is more of our Trek lore guy.

TrekMovie: So JJ [Abrams] talks about the producers having spectrum between the Trek newbie Bryan Burk and the mega-Trekkie Bob Orci. So on the Burk/Orci scale, where do you sit? (with 10 being an Orci)

Mike: I would probably be a 7, or 7.5 Orcis. I am 75% on the Burk/Orci scale

Tim: There is no higher than the Orci, but I would say a 9. Orci and I watch a lot of Star Trek together.

Mike: I would say Tim is a 9.5.

TrekMovie: So what are some of your favorite episodes?

Tim: The cliffhanger of "Best of Best of Both Worlds, Part 1" is the most dramatic of television history as far as I am concerned. I don’t even think Star Trek in the movies have captured that amazing, heart-stopping moment…I would say that is the best.

Mike: I remember I was sitting in our living room in 1990, and I shouted when it said ‘To Be Continued’ and my mom was like ‘what are you shouting about?’ and I was ‘you don’t understand! Locutus!’ But I would say, "Measure of a Man" is my favorite episode.

TrekMovie: So these comics are ‘presented by JJ Abrams’ with a ‘story by’ credit to Bob and Alex and you guys as the writers, so how does the process work?

Mike: Well JJ is the boss, nothing happens that JJ doesn’t want to happen, so it all stems from him. For the nuts and bolts writing it, Bob was overseeing it as the point guy, because logistically JJ is in the editing room so he can’t get into the nitty gritty. But we work in the same office as Bob and Alex so we can pester them and show them things and art as we get it and get their input. We are really lucky because a lot of these tie-in comics, because they don’t have the relationship to the thing they are tying into. This comic was written in the same place the script for the movie was written.

TrekMovie:  And you guys read the script and saw parts of the film before you started…

Mike: That’s right, especially parts of the film that related to Nero since he was key. It is really Nero’s story. As much as we wanted it to be about the Next Gen guys, it is ultimately Nero’s story.


Jones and Johnson focused on watching Nero scenes in Star Trek film to tell his back story in   Countdown

TrekMovie: Regarding Nero, in the first issue he is rather a sympathetic character. Is that the goal of the series, to make him more relatable? 

Tim: We just felt that adds so much more depth to the character, to show a turn of the character — to see how he is not born a bad guy — he becomes a bad guy. He is the villain so he is evil, but what made him turn into a villain? It just seemed more fun that way, instead of just being a bad guy from the beginning

Mike: The best bad guys are the ones that there is a part of you that can see where they are coming from. Like Zod [from Superman II] who just sees all these humans as in his way or Darth Vader, he is much more interesting when you find out he is Luke’s father.

TrekMovie: Is he more interesting when you find out how many midi-chlorians he has?

Mike: Don’t get me started…that is nonsense…it is non-canonical! But the thing about Nero is that yeah we show him as more sympathetic, but that does stem from things in the movie. 

TrekMovie: In a way there are lines of dialog in the movie where people get why he is pissed, like lines of dialog where he talks about what happened before the movie, and that is what we are seeing in the comic book?

Mike: That is right. Absolutely. Every scene that he has in the movie, and not just dialog, has fed into the comic. Also his ship and his crew and how they interact. There is a story behind why the Narada looks like that, and that will be in issue 3….There is a connection between the ship we see in issues 1 & 2 and the ship you see in the trailers, and issue 3 is going to reveal that connection, but we don’t want to say any more.

TrekMovie:  Speaking of Nero’s crew, you raised a few eyebrows with "Get your ass up here Big Boy", did you know that was going to be controversial?

Mike: Well I know putting ‘ass’ in the comic was something, you don’t see that a lot in Star Trek comics.

Tim: But these are miners, these are blue collar tough guys, they are not military. I was surprised by it, but excited as I do love controversy.

Mike: It was very important that they sound like normal people as it factors into Nero’s journey. He has to go from being a normal guy to being the villain.

TrekMovie: So if you have read the comics, will it change the way you view the film?

Mike: I would say that is the intention from everyone involved. It is not going to change it in the sense that if you don’t read it and see the movie you will get less out of the movie. But with the scenes with Nero, there is a lot more subtext to what is going on. You are see things in the movie whose origins are not explained in the movie, but they are explained in the comic book.

TrekMovie: In the trailer we just saw, there is a line where Nero says "James T. Kirk was a great man, but that was another life." He was clearly talking about the ‘Timeline A Kirk’. There was a scene in Countdown #2 where we see Nero doing research and you can see him looking up Kirk and you see Kirk’s image…

Tim: And it is Shatner’s likeness!

TrekMovie: In the film, will people know how Nero knows about that Kirk?

Tim: That is the point of that scene in the comic.

Mike: Nero is fascinated by the ship, he is also interested in Spock’s technology, which is why when he looks in the databanks there is a lot of stuff that is restricted. Nero is a smart guy. He is studying the ship and looking at its history. He says to Picard at one point "I read about you as well" so he did his research.   


Nero finds out that James T. Kirk ‘was a great man’

TrekMovie: Can we expect more Easter Eggs, like the Bad Robot showing up in issue 2?

Mike: Dave Messina put that in, by the way, we can’t rave enough about him. But I don’t think there are more in 3 and 4. In 3 and 4 it is really really fast-paced, this is where the big  things are happening and questions are being answered. You have to be careful with those Easter Eggs. You may think you are being subtle and then it becomes like a clown nose, but there might be some in there.

TrekMovie: You guys have also brought back Data. Was that a no-brainer for both bringing him back and how to bring him back?

Mike: The comic started with the back-story of Nero and Spock, that is why the comic exists. But at the same time we decided to show The Next Generation characters after Nemesis, where are they? What are they doing? And naturally the first step is Picard and if he is not the captain of the Enterprise, then who is? It is not just an invention on our part that Data is restored through B-4, I think that is very plainly pointed to at the end of Nemesis. We just took it from that and what would be the most interesting journey for Data, and not just Data, but for Starfleet, to say ‘this unique individual, that this guy is the most capable strategist, captain, leader that we have in Starfleet so we are going to put him on the Enterprise.’

Tim: We would love to do more. That is one of those things, we would love to tell that story.

TrekMovie: Well I hate to bring up a Voyager episode as a precedent, but in the episode "Tuvix," two characters (Tuvok and Neelix) are combined into on new individual, creating a moral quandary. In the end Janeway decides to eliminate that individual against his will to restore the two original individuals, in a sense, killing ‘Tuvix’. If Data was an individual, wasn’t B-4 also an individual? And if so, then have you not done the same and murdered B-4 by imprinting Data onto him?

Mike: That is the story we want to tell and is yet to be told. And the issue you just brought up is at the emotional heart of that story. The emotional heart of this story is how Nero became a bad guy. The emotional heart of that story is what happened to B-4 and how does Data feel about it, how did Data come back, huge issues.

TrekMovie: Is there anything left of B-4 in Data?

Tim: That is a question that will be answered and we will nail down the specifics, Mike and I are on that.

TrekMovie: So this is not the last word from you guys in this universe?

Tim: Definitely not.

Mike: We are in discussions now about doing more in the same storyline and world that we have done for Countdown.


Countdown brings Data back (via B-4) as new captain of Enterprise

TrekMovie: There have been questions on timing for the issue so when does the comic take place?

Mike: Around eight years after Nemesis.

TrekMovie: Well there is a line where Spock talks about being on Romulus for forty years, but if you do the math back to "Unification" it doesn’t seem to add up.

Mike: The basic issue is: what is his definition of ‘Romulus has been my home’? We don’t have a specific date for Spock’s first arrival on Romulus.

Tim: Well it has been pointed out that in "Unification" he left Vulcan three weeks prior, but whether or not he had duel citizenship before that, it is not clear.

Mike: And he goes back and forth between Romulus and Vulcan. So it is a grey area.

TrekMovie: So do you consider "Countdown" canon?

Mike: Well I do, I think it is important that the writer does. The writer has to think that what they are doing is part of what has come before and what is to come.

TrekMovie: How closely is the final page of the comic to the beginning of the movie?

Tim: It is very close

Mike: It is immediate. It is cause and effect. It is a cliffhanger in the same spirit as "Best of Both Worlds." This ends and you need to go see the movie right now. And this time it isn’t three months later.

Tim: Which is pretty cool.


Two more issues to go

Countdown #1 & #2 are out (and gone from store shelves), but #3 & #4 are still to come. If you have been reading along and don’t have a subscription it is a good idea to pre-order. Otherwise pick up the Trade Paperback which should come out the same week as the fourth issue in April.

Countdown #1

Countdown #2

Countdown #3

Countdown #4

(sold out) 

(sold out)

$3.19
(March)

$3.19
(April)

 

Star Trek Countdown
(Trade Paperback – compiling all 4 issues)

$12.23
(Pre-order – April. 29)

 

Win a signed Countdown Poster
Jones and Johnson signed Countdown posters at the IDW booth and they were nice enough to sign one for myself, and one to give away to a TrekMovie.com reader. To get the poster be the first person in the comments below who can name Nero’s wife. Use a valid email to be contacted for your delivery information.


Tim and Mike signing the poster to be given away

Sort by:   newest | oldest
March 3, 2009 8:28 pm

Firsts. Excellent history. B4 is now Data, mmmmmmmmm

ScootyPuffJr
March 3, 2009 8:35 pm

wow!

The Jui$tain
March 3, 2009 8:35 pm

I went to my local comic shop but the guy said that he might would order a few of Countdown #2. But he doesn’t order ST comics because they end up just sitting on the shelf…… major bummer……

Anyway, these guys have really thought this through!
With this series as a send off to TNG, and an introduction to the new ST movie, I can’t wait for May!

My hat is off to all who worked on this.

*J

March 3, 2009 8:35 pm

“Mike: The basic issue is: what is his definition of ‘Romulus has been my home’? We don’t have a specific date for Spock’s first arrival on Romulus.

Tim: Well it has been pointed out that in “Unification” he left Vulcan three weeks prior, but whether or not he had duel citizenship before that, it is not clear.

Mike: And he goes back and forth between Romulus and Vulcan. So it is a grey area

TRANSLATION : We screwed up, and now we have to try and wiggle out of it. Lol.

A couple of years difference isnt quite the same thing as missing the mark by years, especially when you watch Unification and take note that Vulcans and Romulans are clearly on the worst of terms with eachother, it is not likely many Vulcans have migrated to Romulous at all. Let alone Spock taking up a home there for that amount of time. Ah well.

It is a shame that this Nero backstory isnt already in the film, though. Some of it is fairly well written and I could definately contribute to having a far less cliche villian for a change. :)

Nick Tschumakow
March 3, 2009 8:37 pm

Nero’s Wife’s name is Mandana.

Shatner_Fan_Prime
March 3, 2009 8:38 pm

Appreciate having the timeline question answered. I like the comics overall, but I have to say that Picard being the ambassador to Vulcan seems off to me. Where did that come from??

Simon
March 3, 2009 8:38 pm

“Mike: Well I know putting ‘ass’ in the comic was something, you don’t see that a lot in Star Trek comics.

Tim: But these are miners, these are blue collar tough guys, they are not military. I was surprised by it, but excited as I do love controversy.”

From Galaxy Quest:

Minors NOT miners!

March 3, 2009 8:39 pm

Nero’s wife is named Mandana.

Daniel
March 3, 2009 8:43 pm

I wonder,will there be a comic adaption of the movie itself?That woul really rock!! By the way,what about a “Making of ” Book?

The Governator
March 3, 2009 8:50 pm

Interesting. Nice to know Next Gen will be involved in the plot.

VOODOO
March 3, 2009 8:55 pm

I love the story so far.

GaryP
March 3, 2009 8:58 pm

Shatner_Fan_Prime, Picard mind-melded with both Sarek and Spock. He shared a lifetime of experiences and memories with two highly influential Vulcans and held a very special relationship with Sarek. If any path would lead him to that world, I’d start there. my two cents.

Steamblade
March 3, 2009 9:01 pm

6. I would imagine from his connection to Sarek. Just a thought.

The Governator
March 3, 2009 9:01 pm

It will be interesting to see how the Narada will become that massive space-monster from the trailers. Honestly, I can’t think of anyway they could present that without making it lame, but maybe I’ll be surprised. So far, the comics, aside from some bad dialogue here and there, are great. Can’t wait for more.

Steamblade
March 3, 2009 9:04 pm

10. Yes please! I would love a new edition of Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise for the movie. I miss the great Trek reference publications of the 90s.

OneBuckFilms
March 3, 2009 9:04 pm

9 – That was quick !!!!

March 3, 2009 9:05 pm

my comic book shop is also apparently able to order some more copies of #2.

Shatner_Fan_Prime
March 3, 2009 9:23 pm

#s 13 &14 … I recall those melds. Still, it doesn’t seem right to me. Vulcans were never a big part of the TNG series, and Picard never displayed any particular interest in their culture. If these writers weren’t going to promote Picard into a suitably impressive position, such as Admiral, head of Starfleet, or President of the UFP, they should’ve left him as Captain of the Enterprise, IMO.

AJ
March 3, 2009 9:31 pm

It’s a gift to have such care taken with the sequel “transition” to prequel, or whatever.

For all the nay-sayers out there, I have never seen such care taken by screenwriters, prequel comic writers, novelisors, directors, FX artists, actors, etc. to bring something to life to the extent these guys are doing.

Enterprise
March 3, 2009 9:41 pm

Nero’s wife is named Messalina, I think.

March 3, 2009 9:43 pm

I’ve really been enjoying these books and seeing how they lead up to the new movie . Plus it gives me a chance to run down to my local comic shop and browse for a few minutes while I’m there . I can’t wait for issues 3 and 4 to see how it it lays the groundwork for ST XI .

harley3k
March 3, 2009 10:13 pm

I just read countdown #2…
Dang… that was sweet.

I didn’t understand some of the artwork on Page 22.
The same page as the BadRobot easter egg.

[****************SPOILER COMMENT ALERT****************]
What exactly is that orb looking thing that resembles a POD from 2001 Space Odyssey that Picard and Spock are sitting next too, and that thing in the middle of them looks like a hole in the ground, but the view from the window show they are in a skyscraper?

Schultz
March 3, 2009 10:40 pm

They should turn Countdown into a short supporting film—either animated or live-action—and include it on the BluRay of ST XI. If it’s animated, get all the original actors in to do the voice work etc.… would be great, I think.

Don Farnsworth
March 3, 2009 10:51 pm

I would like to see this set up for all the next gen crew to be obliterated at the beggining of the movie as punishment for what was allowed to happen to Kirk in Generations.

THE NACELLES ARE NOW UNCIRCUMCISED....
March 3, 2009 11:00 pm

Parts one and two have been very good. Looking forward to pts 3 and 4 and the movie of course!

Don Farnsworth
March 3, 2009 11:06 pm

@25
By grapthars hammer Kirk shall be avenged.

Valar1
March 3, 2009 11:29 pm

Nero’s wife is named Laquisha, IIRC.

Jeffrey S. Nelson
March 3, 2009 11:31 pm

Mrs. Nero. She fiddled while Nero mined planets.

TrekMadeMeWonder
March 3, 2009 11:32 pm

I WANT A TOS MOVIE!

Boborci
March 3, 2009 11:34 pm

4. Open Maw Productions – March 3, 2009

TRANSLATION : We screwed up, and now we have to try and wiggle out of it. Lol.

Yeah, but great wiggling!

DrNebuloso
March 3, 2009 11:42 pm

Im so glad for the nod to TNG, I just wish I could see them on screen act it out…

Don Farnsworth
March 3, 2009 11:46 pm

@27 Well said.

March 3, 2009 11:50 pm

This has me really excited. I continue to have long arguments with my brother over the phone about this movie, but even he wants to get his hands on these comics…and this is coming from a 30 year-old businessman who doesn’t usually have time for comics! :D

March 3, 2009 11:54 pm

#31. Boborci
Bah, quit squirming already! Certainly you guys deserve credit for being so creative with Star Trek.

#20. AJ

Best ever is a little too much for me at this point in the game. We havent even seen the comics through and through or the film. We’ll be in a far better position to say “best ever” or “epic fail” at that point. We’ll see. I certainly hope it’s that good.

I think a lot of people are hyping themselves up just because we’re so starved for new Trek. We havent really had anything since 2004, and for some of us it’s been even longer than that. (i’m not a fan of Enterprise… Yet I somehow own all four seasons, what is up with that?!)

Many of us have had reality smacked into us since this was first announced. Not nessacarily in a bad way, just having expectations and our own perceptions of what a Star Trek movie should be, and then seeing what the new kids on the block think should be done. I hope you’re right though AJ. I hope these guys really knock our socks off.

When will the next trailer be out anyway?

Boborci
March 3, 2009 11:59 pm

35. Open Maw Productions – March 3, 2009

“(i’m not a fan of Enterprise… Yet I somehow own all four seasons, what is up with that?!)”

LOL!

As for the trailer… Friday, in front of Watchmen.

March 4, 2009 12:11 am

Tim Jones:
Part of the movie will take place in the Next Generation universe […]

Interesting.

Enc
March 4, 2009 12:12 am

23
any 1 care to post that pic.
it sounds familar

March 4, 2009 12:15 am

And good to see that the Narada transformation comes up in number three…
I wonder if the Time engine will be built in there, too, together with the squiddy tentacles!

March 4, 2009 12:18 am

A regular comic series by those guys?! SIGN ME UP!

March 4, 2009 12:18 am

@23…

Holographic Projector.
There are no R2 Units on Romulus.

March 4, 2009 12:19 am

TrekMovie: Is he more interesting when you find out how many midi-chlorians he has?

Burn! That made me laugh… Thanks for that! ;)

Isn’t the Picasso inspired version of Data’s cat Spot that hangs in Capt. Data’s ready room an easter egg as well? I’d count is as such as the original version appeared on TNG, albeit a much smaller version of the painting.

Alex Rosenzweig
March 4, 2009 12:20 am

#35 – “I think a lot of people are hyping themselves up just because we’re so starved for new Trek. We havent really had anything since 2004, and for some of us it’s been even longer than that.”

I guess maybe that’s why I’m somewhat pickier these days about my Trek. I’ve never had this feeling of not getting new Trek. I’m in the middle of reading a new Trek story right now. And I’ve finished the outline of one I’m writing, too.

So, do I feel starved? Not so much, I’m afraid. Obviously I look forward to the film, but if it’s gonna be a reboot, rather than the TOS origin story I’d so hoped for, I’m not so hard up for good Star Trek that I need to accept such a thing.

March 4, 2009 12:23 am

@40…

There are no R2 Units on Vulcan, either ;))

March 4, 2009 12:27 am

It is amazing how posts pop in later… like Byrons 40.
These are little shifts in the timeline, I guess.

Tarrax
March 4, 2009 12:46 am

40 – Are you sure about that?

Will_H
March 4, 2009 1:19 am

nice spot painting

Paulaner
March 4, 2009 1:35 am

#35 “I think a lot of people are hyping themselves up just because we’re so starved for new Trek.”

In my opinion this is not the only reason. With this movie we have the biggest scale ever for Trek: high budget, top actors, top crew and, most important, a totally new vision. Something fresh and new to change a losing formula that had to be changed. This is why I am so excited.

cinemadeus
March 4, 2009 2:33 am

“You will see things in the movie whose origins are not explained in the movie, but they are explained in the comic book.”

Two words: Not good.

However my former best girlfriend used to say “Hope dies last”.

March 4, 2009 2:54 am

@49…

that will be additional information which is not neccessary to follow the movies plotline…

wpDiscuz