When a standard survey mission to the world of Phaedus IV goes awry, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves embroiled in an ongoing conflict between the planet’s insectoid inhabitants. With the Enterprise disabled, Kirk and Spock discover that events on both sides are being manipulated by outside forces. But while the puppet masters of one faction may come as no surprise, the figure attempting to avert the genocide of one of the races of Phaedus most certainly does. Long thought to be dead, what is the story behind Captain Robert April’s survival? And why has the Enterprise’s former chief officer chosen to so flagrantly defy the Prime Directive?
Ostensibly a prologue to the events of Star Trek: Into Darkness many of this collected limited series’ ties to the movie are more thematic than plot driven, focusing on subjects like Spock’s continuing mix of grief and guilt over the destruction of Vulcan and questions of Starfleet ethics. Of those elements that link more strongly into the latest film’s narrative the build-up of Klingon expansionism is at the forefront, foreshadowing the use of those original series arch-baddies in Into Darkness. You’ll also discover where a certain smaller spacecraft used in the movie came from (a throwaway line there directly referencing the events of this series).
For the Star Trek continuity buffs there’s plenty to enjoy here. From direct use of an episode of the oft overlooked Star Trek: The Animated Series as the foundation for a major plot point to a very fondly remembered name from the classic series popping up in a brand new guise (and gender!), all the customary nods to the past are there for the old school fans.
Is this an essential read to complement its cinematic bigger sibling though? That would be a hard argument to make to be honest. If you’re looking for something that adds significantly to the main story threads of Into Darkness, you will be disappointed. Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson’s plot is more of a standalone affair but it’s still a rollicking good adventure in the much loved Star Trek tradition, and one that at its heart examines some complex moral questions surrounding Starfleet’s non-interventionist policies. Johnson’s characterisation is entirely competent throughout with an intriguing antagonist in April, while David Messina proves a capable visual storyteller for those more dynamic space opera action scenes.
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness is, perhaps, like many film and TV tie-in comics a largely throwaway exercise. However, it’s still a rock solid piece of undemanding escapist fun; a comfort read, to be sure, but a diverting one. Just don’t be too taken in by that Benedict Cumberbatch photo cover…
Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson (w), David Messina (a), Titan Books, £9.99