“Just a simple recon flight. We’ll be back before you know it.”
Famous last words from Captain James T. Kirk as he leads an Away Team to the surface of Phaedus in the first issue of IDW’s Star Trek Countdown to Darkness, a direct lead-in to this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness. The most secretive blockbuster of 2013 is about to get a lot less secretive. Tie-in comics usually don’t mean much, but this one is cowritten by Robert Orci (with Mike Johnson), the screenwriter of the J.J. Abrams sequel, and promises to be just what fans need to set the stage for the upcoming film.
Without getting into spoilers, the book finds Spock still struggling with the loss of his home world Vulcan, and Kirk weighing his job as starship captain against his desire for some kind of companionship. The crew is currently tasked with a routine scientific scan of the rings of Phaedus, an M-Class planet whose inhabitants are only as advanced as Earth’s ancient Roman Empire. The Prime Directive dictates that the Enterprise keep its distance and avoid disruptive contact, but an electronic pulse from the surface calls the directive into question. Phaedus just isn’t supposed to have the kind of technology that could take out the communications on a Federation starship.
There’s no sign of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character at this point (whoever he is), but there is a nice hook on the final page of the first issue that makes up for a lack of Cumberbatch. It’s hard to get a read with just one issue as to what kind of movie Into Darkness is going to be, but there is a certain amount of status quo being carried over from one film to another. Uhura and Spock are still an item, Scotty still has his rock-faced helper, and Kirk doesn’t have the relationship with Bones and Spock that we expect from the original television series and films. Those are the non-spoilers; the elements that set the stage. For those that want to know all the details...
The last panel reveal is that of Robert April, original captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, now living on Phaedus and allowing their indigenous insectoid race access to Starfleet technology (they resemble the prawns from District 9). April was introduced in the original Star Trek animated series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident,” and though that show isn’t considered canon, the name still comes up in Trek novels and informational guides as the first Enterprise captain.
It’s also clear from the art (by David Messina) that April is not intended to be Cumberbatch. He’s drawn obviously older than that actor, but a few questions are still raised by his appearance here. How did he end up on Phaedus without Starfleet’s knowledge (assuming they don’t know), and how does his appearance in this comic relate to the spoilery bits that HitFix’s Drew McWeeny spotted on his recent visit to Bad Robot’s production offices? Drew saw just enough to tip him off that April was part of the film in some way, and speculated that Cumberbatch might be playing the character and that April might be looking to settle a beef with his old second-in-command, Christopher Pike.
It was a good guess; certainly strong enough to bring a smile to my face when I got to the final page of the first issue. April has something to do with Into Darkness, but what that something is is still anybody’s guess. That is, until February 13, when the second issue of Countdown to Darkness hits the stands. For now, you can get in at the start of the four-issue series tomorrow, either from your local comic shop or digitally, or you can wait it out till May 17, when Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters.
Follow along on Twitter: @Gholson and @Moviesdotcom.