IDW’s Kelvin Universe scribe discusses why he decided to open Boldly Go with the Borg, what’s next for Kirk and company (including a “Murder at Babel”), Star Trek/Green Lantern volume two and even (a little) Star Trek: Discovery.
Predictable has never been a word related to Mike Johnson as a comic writer. IDW’s Star Trek Kelvin Universe (and Discovery) wordsmith has penned his fair share of exciting moments at the narrative helm of the Enterprise. He has ventured into the Mirror Universe, had Q torture Kirk and company, had the crew meet their opposite sex versions from another universe and told the final Spock Prime story in comics. With Star Trek Boldly Go launching this past October, bridging the post-Krall victory moments and pre-launch Enterprise-A, Johnson once again showed readers he was going to leave no idea on the table.
Thus, Johnson’s first antagonist for Boldly Go was none other than The Next Generation/Voyager nemesis – the Borg. Returning to the Star Trek/Green Lantern crossover universe, he continues the story of the stranded Lanterns and throws in the reappearance of Khan to boot. What he will do next is anyone’s guess – TrekMovie sat down with him to see what secrets we could pry away (although now we think he might be a Section 31 operative).
TREKMOVIE: How far in advance do you have stories plotted?
MIKE JOHNSON: Right now, probably about six months ahead from the issue you’re reading at any given time; then I have a collection of ideas that haven’t been approved.
We divide stories up into one-parters, two-parters, three-parters – probably won’t do more than that because it would be three months in real time for the story to play out for the reader. Even though they will be one or two issue stories, [Boldly Go] is going to be more serialized than the earlier series – we will see continued fallout from the Borg encounter, and what happened to Commander Valas.
TM: What made you decide to kick off Boldly Go with the Borg?
MJ: I just wanted something that would really get people’s attention, show them that we would be taking risks. In the Kelvinverse, we are going to show in a big way how things are going to play out differently.
TM: What can readers look forward to in future issues?
MJ: Issue 6 is a standalone that will focus on the crew of the Endeavour – one of them has a secret that we’re going to learn. Issues 7 and 8 are a two-parter, “Murder at Babel” – [I’m] very excited to have [artist] Megan Levens drawing this story while Tony [Shasteen] is working on the Discovery comics. The two-parter will also show the first meeting between our Academy recruits, including Jaylah, and the Enterprise crew. Ryan Parrott [co-writer on last year’s Starfleet Academy] is co-writing issues 6-9 while I also work on Discovery. Issue 9 will be a standalone issue with Spock and Uhura back on New Vulcan.
TM: You mentioned Star Trek: Discovery comics.
MJ: We’re still figuring out the release plan; we’ve already started working on the stories and working with Kirsten (Beyer). The comic will be closely woven into the show.
TM: How do you tell a Jaylah origin story in issue five without knowing where her character might go in future films?
MJ: I take the threads from the movie and expand on them, and then get sign off from CBS and Paramount – they could potentially go in a different direction since there is no script for a fourth movie, but I think [the story] fits pretty well with what we know of her.
TM: When you introduced the Borg, or Khan in Star Trek/Green Lantern, did you have to clear it with CBS’ Vice-President of Product Development John Van Citters or IDW Star Trek Editor Sarah Gaydos?
MJ: I pitch it to the brain trust – Sarah, John and Risa [Kessler], who oversees everything on the Paramount side. They either say yes, no, or “yes but”. Over time we have established a trust where they know I won’t screw up things too badly.
TM: Do you have parameters or boundaries you must stay within story wise as far as the characters go?
MJ: I have to stay within the bounds that leave the door open for anything that happens in the movies. I can’t show Spock and Uhura having a kid together, but I can have them talking about having a kid. We know the next movie will show the crew on the new Enterprise, so we have freedom to do stories that will take place in between, while they’re building the new ship.
TM: Jaylah and the characters from Starfleet Academy will be in the two-issue “Murder at Babel.” Are there plans to do a sequel to Starfleet Academy, with the characters introduced in that series and Jaylah?
MJ: We hope to do a follow up to Starfleet Academy – basically, everybody wants to do it. It’s just a matter of finding space on the schedule. Derek Charm [artist on Starfleet Academy] is ready to go and we wouldn’t do it without him. If we do it, part of the story is Jaylah adapting to life on Earth.
TM: You litter your Kelvin Universe stories with tons of Star Trek Easter Eggs. Do these come about naturally or something else?
MJ: Sort of pops up if there’s an opportunity; if I’m writing about a particular location or species, I’ll slide them in. I like to put in things from modern day – slide in names of astronauts and sci-fi writers. I like to put them in for fans like yourself that have the eagle eye to spot these things.
TM: Star Trek/Green Lantern volume 2 has been exciting, although the Enterprise crew has little to do thus far. With the surprise appearance at the conclusion of issue two, will that change?
MJ: I wanted to attract Green Lantern fans to Star Trek, so that’s part of the reason for how heavy it’s been with those characters. I wanted it to feel like it followed from the first one, playing on what the effects of not having the power batteries are on the Lanterns.
I wanted to play with the idea that the Kelvinverse history of the Green Lanterns is at a different point of time. This is the driving point of the series – what’s going to happen to the Green Lantern Corps, and what will happen to the Federation and Starfleet – particularly since Khan has returned and has access to the power of the Lanterns.
If the first series was about what happens when the Enterprise crew gets the rings, this series is really about the two archenemies, Sinestro and Khan, and what it means to have an archenemy diametrically opposed to everything you do – and ultimately everything you love being destroyed by everything you hate. We’re going to see Kirk and crew face off against a more powerful Khan than ever. Ultimately, if you have these two powerful archenemies, they are not going to get along either. It has more action than the last series, but overall, the theme is looking at your opposite and asking what is ultimately stronger, hate and violence or hope and peace.
TM: Does writing a book like Star Trek/Green Lantern give you more freedom to take bigger chances or bigger dramatic leaps with the crew?
MJ: Part of it’s like what I did with the first series; I wrote down cool stuff you would see if these two universes crossed over – Enterprise aglow in green light, Spock and Bones with a ring. This one is on a bigger scale with the planet Oa and Khan’s return, and the Klingons are still around. We are upping the stakes, going to the center of the universe now, which is farther than anyone’s ever been. The stakes are that much higher in a book like this, because it is an Elseworlds’ story [a what if tale]; people can die and crazy things can happen and it doesn’t affect the ongoing story and what’s going on with the movie. These comics exist in their own pocket universe.
TM: Is there another dream team-up you would like to do?
MJ: (laughs) I actually talked about this with Bob Orci years ago when they were writing Star Trek and Transformers; the Enterprise would go to the planet Cybertron. I’m always bringing that up every few months.
TM: Will Boldly Go eventually see the crew come back together on the Enterprise A?
MJ: We’re working on ways to bring them together as much as we can. This series is an interesting look and departure from the standard we’re all on a ship and finding a new planet.
TM: Why did you choose to have Bones take a demotion to serve aboard the Endeavour with Kirk?
MJ: Bones wanted to stay with his best buddy; for all his complaints, he loves his job. He wants to stick with his best pal, and maybe even looking after Kirk as a big brother would – so he swallowed his pride and took a demotion.
TM: How about having Chekov also serve on the Endeavour?
MJ: Honestly, we couldn’t have everybody in different places. I wanted to keep Spock and Uhura together, while Scotty’s off at the Academy.
TM: Who is your favorite character to write?
MJ: I love them all, but enjoy writing Spock and Bones the most. I like writing’s Spock’s voice, the particular way he speaks – sometimes its bouncing how literal he is with the subtext of what he is saying. With Bones it’s his sense of humor, his sarcastic look at things and how ridiculous they are.
TM: When will we be reading the all-musical issue of Star Trek Boldly Go?
MJ: (laughs) That’s a great question. I will have to stick it on the schedule. Maybe what I will do is write a normal issue, and tweet out a soundtrack that goes along with it.
TM: You have been writing Star Trek comics since 2011, what gets you excited about this universe six years later?
MJ: There are so many different opportunities to tell different stories – horror, hard sci-fi, personal stories, interactions with different species, mind-bending crazy sci-fi. The thing I like most is the stories about people solving problems using reason and science – it’s inherently optimistic. It’s not that these characters don’t face big problems, but they always believe they can find a way – and that is very inspiring to write.