Countdown to Darkness #1 is out now from IDW Publishing, and it’s the kickoff to the four-part comic-book mini-series prequel to the May 17 big-screen adventure Star Trek Into Darkness. The Countdown to Darkness mini-series reunites Mike Johnson and Roberto Orci, who’d previously collaborated on IDW’s Star Trek: Countdown books in 2009. Johnson, of course, is a respected comic book writer, while Orci co-wrote and co-produced Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, and oversaw both comic-book mini-series. Today, in a StarTrek.com exclusive, Johnson and Orci engage in a joint conversation about Countdown to Darkness.
Orci: I thought it was great. It was a fun challenge inspired by fan requests and curiosity about whether we were erasing previous canon with the new movie. We collectively hit on the idea of using comics as a way to hand off canon from The Next Generation to the new movies. It was something we would want to see as fans ourselves.
Johnson: It was really gratifying to see fans embrace the original Countdown as way to connect the two timelines in a meaningful way. We worked hard to make it feel like an integral part of both the original timeline and the new one, and the response from fans was fantastic.
What lessons did you learn that you brought to bear on this new prequel mini-series?
Orci: It was nice to rediscover the value of comics, particularly in an age where cross-media tends to be thought of in ones and zeros, all electronic, but here’s our old friend, comics, getting on the New York Times bestseller list and advancing Star Trek as much as any other form.
Give us some sense of the story. What can readers expect to read and see on the pages?
Orci: Whereas the original Countdown was more of a farewell to the previous timeline, we really wanted this story to look forward. The 2009 movie established the characters and their relationships, and now the adventure begins immediately.
Johnson: Rather than showing back story this time, we are really setting the table for the next movie here in ways that the original Countdown couldn’t because we hadn’t met the new Kirk and Spock yet. The scope is a big as the last series, but this one is full of things we haven’t seen yet in the new timeline, all leading into the mind-blowing events of the next movie.
Johnson: We can’t answer without giving anything away, but I can tease you by saying that a character we have not yet seen in the new timeline shows up in Issue #1 and plays a critical role in the story. The mini-series will flow directly into the next movie, in the same way that the original Countdown did.
Mike, you had access to the Star Trek (2009) script when you were working on Countdown. How much access did you have to the sequel script and in what ways did it help you shape the new comics' story?
Johnson: As with the first Countdown, I had access to the script. But, as people are aware, this film is wrapped in layers of secrecy that not even a rogue Romulan planet-drill could penetrate. And with good reason. But that access was invaluable when it came to creating a story that ties into the movie in a meaningful and effective way. There are other comic tie-ins that don’t have that benefit, but having it definitely leads to the best possible Star Trek story on the stands, which is our first priority.
Bob, what kinds of suggestions/direction did you give Mike in terms of fleshing out/filling in blanks of the sequel's story?
Orci: Make sure the story stands on its own. We don’t want to cannibalize the story of the next movie, but instead it should set up the movie as part of the necessary heartbeat of its own story.
Bob, what does it mean to you to have another writer to bounce story ideas off of?
Orci: I’ve been doing it since I was a senior in high school with my writing partner of 20 years, Alex Kurtzman. So it’s very comfortable.
For both of you, Countdown was extremely successful and you did NOT have to read it to enjoy film. If you did, though, it added dimension and back story to how we got to the point of the Kelvin being hammered. How tricky is it to create something that's strong enough as a standalone, yet fits in like a puzzle piece within a larger canvas?
Orci: It’s a 9.5 out of 10 on the tricky scale.
Johnson: The comic has to connect without spoiling, but as Bob said it has to stand on its own. There’s an element of reverse-engineering to create a story that sets up the movie, but reverse-engineering will only take you so far. At a certain point you have to forward-engineer, as Keenser would say. It is very much a puzzle, but a fantastic one, and hopefully all the edges are smooth.
Johnson: No Prime connections in this one. The priority is exploring this new reality.
Orci: We were so lucky that fans embraced the new timeline. And our instinct now is to leave well enough alone and let this timeline stand on its own.
Bob, what's the overall writing/story philosophy for non-film Trek endeavors in the J.J.-verse. What's the approach?
Orci: The approach is to ignore the medium and focus on the story. Don’t make a distinction between comic and film and anything else -- and just focus on making it Star Trek.
Is there anything in the other Trek comics related to the film that we may have missed already?
Johnson: There are bunch of little hints that we’ve put in the ongoing Star Trek comics series that Bob is overseeing. None of them are the kind of thing that can spoil anything in the movie, but the idea is that, like the original Countdown, you can go back and read them and say “Hey! They totally set that up in the comics months before!” It’s been sneaky fun putting them in there.
How canon is this?
Orci: We get asked that a lot, and it’s our understanding that canon is that which is filmed. As a strict Constitutionalist, I don’t support a change in the definition of canon during my tenure. Perhaps future courts can take up the issue, but in the meantime the comics are as close to canon as you can get without being on film.