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"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.
Star Trek Countdown
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