STAR TREK Movie Script Review: FIRE EVERYTHING!

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With the world premiere of Star Trek unspooling tonight in Sydney—and no, the International Date Line does not constitute time travel—I thought I’d finally break my silence about the script, as one of the few people in the galaxy to actually read the screenplay ahead of time.

A word of caution as we begin: breaking my silence doesn’t mean breaking my non-disclosure agreement with IDW, Orci/Kurtzman or Bad Robot, who would all be happy to set their phasers to kill if I genuinely ruined any surprises. So, expect a spoiler-free review below; and if you actually like spoilers, you’ll already be surfing a tsunami of them tomorrow and won’t need any from me. (In fact, thanks to Twitter, you’ll probably even get them during the screening itself).

First, however, some background: Director J.J. Abams, the mastermind behind the franchise’s reboot, is notoriously secretive with the details of his projects, a lesson cannily learned from the successes of Lost and Cloverfield; so even reading the script ahead of time required a perfect storm of opportunity and circumstance.

trekmovielogoAs the Trek editor for IDW, which routinely publishes comic book prequels for its licensed titles, the “Supreme Court” of J.J.’s creative circle had tapped me to write the four-issue miniseries that would lead into the film, with the comics hitting the stands in 2008. Soon thereafter, though, Paramount execs repositioned Star Trek as a 2009 summer tentpole release, having laid their eyes on the film’s early footage. Meanwhile, I left the Trek captain’s chair to freelance full-time, and the logistical insanity of creating both the film and the prequel simultaneously finally forced J.J.’s team to shift gears and create the comics series in-house. (No cards or flowers for me, please—it’s not the first time that’s happened in Hollywood, and it won’t be the last.)

During the interim between the two, however, I had the chance to drive up to Universal and read the script at the Orci/Kurtzman offices (where, by coincidence, I actually met one of the guys who’d ultimately write the prequel). This by itself took an extraordinary amount of negotiation, including a maze of round-robin phone calls, several rescheduled appointment dates, and finally a comprehensive resume of published works demonstrating my geek cred. When these people said they intended to keep the story under wraps, they weren’t kidding—in fact, even some key people at CBS/Paramount hadn’t read the script yet, and quite possibly still haven’t. (Did it help that I went to the same high school as Trek producer and Lost Abramite Damon Lindelof? Probably not, but you never know.)

I recognize that such secrecy has occasionally frustrated fans—Trek at its most basic might be a mere copyright, but it’s also a global cultural touchstone and the centerpiece of imagination for legions of true believers. When the custodian of that mythology says he’s going to rewrite the testament, but keep its secrets from the congregates, there’s naturally going to be disquiet among the faithful.

At the same time, however, this secrecy has delivered its exact desired effect: Fans have become more abuzz about this film than perhaps any other in Trek history, and unveiling the reworked franchise with one single flourish has proven much more effective than had J.J. piecemealed it out. Or, to put it in my familiar comic book terms: it would have been like reading a scattershot series of panels, released haphazardly, then attempting to gague whether the issue was any good.

So, enough preamble. Having read the script in a single flourish, is it any good?

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The answer is: Oh, my, yes. You’re goddamn right it is.

The Supreme Court has powered up all its storytelling weapons and—paraphrasing Nero—fired everything. Action, drama, mythology, philosophy, characterization, romance…literally, all here. Pulse-pounding action sequences, so well choreographed that they actually unfold right on the page. More in-depth characterization than some players receive during entire seasons of Trek. And, most importantly, such elements used not in place of the story, but in direct service to it.

Let’s start with action. As a writer, I use a couple of rules when crafting action scenes: #1: Good action is cool shit happening in interesting places. #2: Everything is more exciting when it’s airborne. And #3: Never pass up the chance to explode a helicopter. The script exploits the first two with consistent and often breathtaking effect; and, while there obviously aren’t any copters in Star Trek, Orci & Kurtzman blow up nearly everything else, again always in service to the story, and not merely CGI showpieces for a picture-frame plot.

The drama? There are a couple of rules when crafting drama as well. #1. Desperate characters struggle against rising stakes; #2: External conflict should be matched by internal conflict; and #3: Get the hell out of the helicopter, douchebag, it’s about to explode.

Here again, the script utterly nails it—especially #3, in which (once the story goes to warp) characters find themselves in almost constant jeopardy, either through action itself or the tension leading up to it. That alone speaks to the skill behind the script, since it keeps moments stretched drum-tight even when we’re all well aware—because, of course, this is the relaunch of the franchise—that most characters aren’t about to get cut in half by a lightsabre midway through the second reel.

spock-and-kirkOK, enough with the rules-numbering. Let’s talk about the characterization. Having written and edited licensed Star Trek, I can tell you that it’s really not that difficult to get Kirk’s voice onto the page or make Spock sound like Spock. Even Slash/fanfic’ers can do it; we’ve all seen the episodes and movies dozens of times and know exactly who they are and how they talk. The challenge for this film is to deliver an origin story about how those characters came to be.

On that level, it’s a story that will appeal not just to Trek fans, but universally to any fans of good storytelling, who can connect with individuals and the relationships that develop between them, with their character arcs of growth, failure and sacrifice, and their authentic human experiences even amidst the backdrop of exploding photon torpedoes.

neroWere there things I didn’t think were perfect? Well, sure. I thought that Nero actually read a little flat on the page—no pun intended—but, having seen even just brief clips of Eric Bana’s performance from the TV spots and trailers, I realize now that he could see in the script what I didn’t. He’s definitely taken the character and punched him through to the stratosphere.

I also thought there was one brief action set-piece that felt a bit too familiar to one from another film of the same genre (again, no spoilers, so I won’t say what); but when you’ve seen as many SF films, episodes, comics, scripts and pitches as I have, sooner or later you’ll find all sorts of moments that can start to seem familiar. It’s the only one I found in the script here, though, and if it’s executed correctly on the screen, it’s going to be a fantastic sequence.

So, all right, it’s a great script. But Star Trek scripts need to be more than great stories; they need to be great Trek, and that means fidelity to all the precise continuity that goes along with it. Talk of reboots and reworkings and reimaginings makes fans afraid that they’re about to rewatch Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. We’ve all seen Greedo shoot first, and in Hollywood the words “trust me” and “fuck off” often sound remarkably identical. When I moderated the Star Trek publishing panel at the San Diego Comic-Con last year, the subject of the film naturally came up, and Wil Wheaton, sitting next to me, put it best: “We are all living in a Post-Phantom Menace World.”

I also have a number of good friends who have written Trek professionally for the screen, and as much as I fully respect them, there’s a sentiment among some that resists not just change, but any change. Those friends might very well disagree with me about this script, but it’s likely that they would have been disappointed no matter what story was made. Hell, some Star Trek fans already have Internet firefights worthy of the Dominion War, and that’s just for stories that didn’t restart the franchise. I couldn’t produce stories that pleased every single one of those fans when I ran the Trek titles at IDW, and Orci/Kurtzman don’t make the mistake of attempting to do that here.

enterpriseBut, just in case you’re concerned that this story marks its new continuity by pissing all over the old one, let me reassure you: That isn’t what happens here. The script doesn’t ignore 40+ years of continuity, it doesn’t replace it and it doesn’t even eulogize it. It constructs a deceptively elegant narrative device to leave in place all that has gone before, while striking off in a bold new direction. It’s a fresh coat of paint on the ship that we’re all already familiar and comfortable with.

There is indeed a moment in the script—I won’t say what it is, even though it’s already been leaked and widely discussed, since I promised no spoilers—that indelibly marks this as a new continuity; it’s sure to be controversial among the fans, but it’s not a cheap stunt or way of dismissing the old stories. It’s the story’s way of cementing a new identity all its own.

It’s also entirely fair to say that Paramount has hoped to refit the franchise for a new generation, acutely aware of the gently aging demographic that has devoted itself up until now; and in that respect it definitely represents a more modern sensibility and departure from the back-to-basics, “Enterprise gets involved in two warring factions on a planet” type of routine story that made Insurrection such an epic fail.

But while teens will most definitely love it, I’ll also say that my dad is 72 years old, wouldn’t know a phaser from a fork in a toaster, and I’m going to make him see it on opening weekend. It’s a story that communicates everything we’ve loved about Trek, to the masses who could never quite fathom why we loved it; it is, in almost every way, the Star Trek movie we’ve been waiting for.

LAST GENERATION: Coverama II

With the grand finale of my Star Trek: The Last Generation miniseries hitting the stands last week,  I thought I’d give s a bit of cool background on some more great Last Generation covers previewed during my blogging absence–this time from the recent past, and therefore not so tragically behind the curve:

Star Trek The Last Generation #4, by Gordon Purcell.

Star Trek: The Last Generation #4, by Gordon Purcell.

Gordon Purcell has been one of the premiere Star Trek comics artists of his generation. Known for his spot-on and yet remarkably expressive likenesses, it’s virtually impossible to think about Star Trek comics in the ’90s without his signature style coming to mind. (He’s such a vet of the franchise that his first Trek work was actually for DC’s first TOS series, in 1988.) Since then, Gordon’s worked on the second DC Trek series, their TNG series, Malibu’s Deep Space Nine and even Wildstorm’s Voyager efforts. (And that just about covers it, yah?)

Gordon Purcell

Gordon Purcell

So, when a fill-in issue opened up in our IDW schedule, it was a no-brainer for us to hire him on. We liked his work so much on that issue that we phoned him up again to wrap up the first Star Trek: Year Four miniseries, and then draw the entire run of the second Year Four series, from Trek grande dame D.C. Fontana and noted TV scribe Derek Chester. Gordon’s one of the most professional, steady and reliable artists I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with as an editor, so it was great to finally have him draw a series for me that I had written.

It was also well past due that Gordon finally drew a cover for us, so I called up Last Generation editor Andy Schmidt, my successor at IDW, and he thought it was an excellent idea. Since Gordon was already handling the interiors, this cover didn’t require much participation on my part, other than to tell Gordon, “JK’s already doing the space battle, so maybe you’ll want to do the mano-y-mano between Sulu and Worf.” (Yes, I know, a moment of breathtaking art direction.)

Gordon then turned in an image so perfectly suited to the story that it can practically be inserted directly into the comic, between pages 15 and 16, and have it make the climax of his epic fight scene somehow even more dramatic. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering that the cover was probably drawn months before he tackled the interiors of the issue.

Star Trek The Last Generation #5, by JK Woodward.

Star Trek: The Last Generation #5, by Nick Runge.

Nick Runge did some fantastic cover work for me when I edited the new Badger series for IDW, featuring the inestimable Mike Baron’s classic indie character from the 1980s. Here, he pulls off a ripping homage to the movie poster for The Undiscovered Country, this time with the Last Generation characters in place of the original Enterprise crew, since issue #5 involves the Last Gen cast traveling back in time to the climax of Star Trek VI . (There’s even Worf’s menacing gaze in place of Chang’s, complete with riveted eyepatch. Nice!)

Movie poster for Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country.

The original movie poster for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

You will notice one essential difference between the two images–the explosion’s a bit bigger, colored with a more limited palette. That’s actually intentional, to accommodate a very cool placement for the trade dress (series logo, etc.), since the composition of the original image wouldn’t have allowed for its usual location across the top.

But, as inspired as this cover is, I also can’t take any credit for it–it was kept secret, as a complete surprise for me, by my wily Last Gen editor Andy Schmidt. When I first laid eyes on it, that immediately became one of my favorite moments working on the Last Generation project. It was simply a stroke of genius to execute a second homage cover (after JK Woodward’s cool-as-hell rendition of Uncanny X-Men #141 for the first issue), and have them both serve as bookends for the completed series.

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Star Trek: The Last Generation #5, by JK Woodward

My pal JK Woodward served as the main cover artist for the entire Last Generation series, including this incredibly atmospheric image that harkens back to–and, really, surpasses–some of the best covers of the classic 1980s and ’90s DC Comics run.

Strangely–perhaps because JK served as the main cover artist for the series–the Internets credited him, rather than Nick, for the Star Trek VI homage cover when it was first released. Obviously, if you read it on the Internet then it must be true, so people were pleasantly surprised when JK later unveiled this stellar (no pun intended) painted work.

HARVEY AWARDS 2009: My Nominations

harvey_nominee_logoUnlike the Eisner Awards–the comics industry’s version of the Oscars, given out every year at the San Diego Comic-Con–the Harveys get nominated and awarded not by select committee, but by the community of working comics professionals at large. That doesn’t make them more or less legitimate, but it gives them a range and opportunity for dark-horse surprise that you might not find from the more refined Eisners.

Nominations from comics pros for this year’s Harveys were due Friday, and you could actually make up to five nominations per category, but I’ll just focus here on my top picks who I hope will win. They really all deserve it.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

WRITER: Joe Hill (Locke & Key)

The first series, by the son of Stephen King, was easily the best thing published during my time at IDW. It’s one of the reasons that my Star Trek: The Last Generation has no chance of winning the Roundtable Award for Best Series that both are nominated for.

ARTIST: Marko Djurdjevic (Thor)

Marko has done some great covers for projects at Radical, but he’s an artist who can also pull off consistently astonishing sequential interiors. His stuff on Thor was majestic and stunning.

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Chris Ware

CARTOONIST (writer/artist): Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library)

Longtime friend and BOOM! Studios Publisher Ross Richie turned me onto Chris Ware’s stuff more than 10 years ago–I’m not sure if he knew Chris in college, I don’t recall–but Ross has always had the ability to spot edgy, out-of-the-box talent.

LETTERER: Richard Starkings (various titles)

INKER: Danny Miki (various titles)

COLORIST:Dave Stewart (various titles)

COVER ARTIST: Dave Johnson (100 Bullets)

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Me and Sam, working the Radical booth at WonderCon 2009.

NEW TALENT: Sam Sarkar (Caliber)

Okay, yes, it’s Radical, but this was published months before I started there. Sam heads up Johnny Depp’s production company, but made the transition from film to comics with extraordinary skill. His first comics work, Caliber, a retelling of the King Arthur legend in the Old West, helped launch Radical’s entire comics line, and the finale (#5) is as good of an issue-long action sequence as I’ve ever read.

NEW SERIES: All-Star Superman (DC Comics)

As if this one’s not going to make the list.

CONTINUING or LIMITED SERIES: Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse)

SINGLE ISSUE or STORY: Y: The Last Man #60 (Vertigo)

COMIC STRIP: Dilbert (Scott Adams)

[OK, I’m a nerd, so sue me.]

scorchy-smithDOMESTIC REPRINT PROJECT: Scorchy Smith & The Art of Noel Sickles (IDW Publishing)

Kudos to IDW for resurrecting one of the tragically unsung greats. Noel Sickles played a huge role in the early development of the comic arts, from storytelling style to the incorporation of classic art techniques like chiaroscuro, unprecedented for the form at the time. If you’ve never heard of him or Scorchy Smith, and you’re interested to see how the art form developed, you need to check this out.

ORIGINAL GRAPHIC ALBUM: The Joker (DC Comics)

GRAPHIC ALBUM (previously published material): The Grendel Archives (Dark Horse)

For sentimental reasons. (Sentimental about a masked spirit of vengeance? Um, yeah!)

mateki_cover_080214AMERICAN EDITION OF FOREIGN MATERIAL: Mateki: The Magic Flute (Radical Publishing)

Another Radical book that predates my time with the company. A truly stunning adaptation of the Mozart opera, by the legendary artist, translated here from its original Japanese.

WEBCOMIC: PVP: Player Vs. Player (Scott Kurtz)

Scott will actually be hosting the Harvey Awards at the Baltimore Comic-Con. And then he will do a PVP strip about announcing his own name as the winner.

Arie, by Arie.

Arie, by Arie.

BIOGRAPHICAL/HISTORICAL/ JOURNALISTIC PUBLICATION: From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books (Arie Kaplan)

This book by my pal Arie actually originated as a series of articles in Reform Judaism magazine–one issue of which featured an interview my wife conducted with presidential candidate John Kerry, long before I met Arie through his work at IDW. His book has garnered all sorts of awards and recognition, all deservedly so. Check it out when you get the chance.

SPECIAL AWARD FOR HUMOR: Brian Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim)

EXCELLENCE IN PRESENTATION/ART DIRECTION

Yeah, I left this one blank, since I subsist largerly on comps and didn’t spend a lot of money this past year on the kind of high-ticket items that earn this nomination. But there are probably a good dozen or so exemplary projects out there that would easily earn this award.


LAST GEN #5 On Sale — UPDATE: Selling out!

last-generation-logoWent to my Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Store at 5pm to pick up Star Trek: The Last Generation #5, and… it had sold out, on the very first day. So, I drove 20 minutes to another, larger store, and–sold out!

For the first time in a long time, I actually felt thrilled to drive home empty-handed.

Colorist John Hunt, who worked on part of the issue along with Mario Boon, told me he had a similar experience, in which he went to his comics shop and found the very last copy available. I’ve even had a reviewer contact me looking for a copy, since it was gone on the first day at his shop, too.

It’s not a question of retailers ordering fewer copies–the numbers for issue #4 actually went up from #3–which almost never happens for a miniseries (and it didn’t have any Retailer Incentive covers to increase orders, either).

Issue #4 appeared in the retailer order guide the same month that #1 hit the stands, so rack sales and customer reaction to the first issue must have been unusually strong. And, based on these sales for #5, it looks like it continued through the entire series.

If you can’t find #5 on the stands, ask your retailer put in a reorder and it’ll show up in about a week, usually the next Wednesday or Thursday. Or, pick up the collected edition, which hits both comics shops and book stores in July, just in time for the San Diego megashow.


INTERVIEW: Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

With the sudden collapse of the Czech government this week and the impending exit of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek–currently the president of the European Union, in fact–I thought I’d repost an interview I conducted with him shortly before his ascension to the PM post.

He struck me as decent, candid, and unafraid to make controversial statements about positions he genuinely believed in. He also commanded an exceptional fluency in English, without even the need for a translator on standby. Ultimately, his government’s handling of the current economic crisis gave rise to the current “no confidence” vote, though likely a couple of other issues came into play as well.

With his forced resignation, the EU presidency post could pass to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, founder of Topolanek’s party and whose reputation for euroscepticism we actually discuss during the interview. Oh yeah–and U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to visit Prague in just a few days. It will be, as they say, an interesting week.

Click on the images to read the article; photos are by Stephanie Peterka. And you can check out more of my non-comics writing in the Published Works section–just scroll down.

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Page Two:

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Page Three:

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STAR TREK: THE LAST GENERATION #5 On Sale!

Q’plah! The time-warping series finale of Star Trek: The Last Generation hits the stands today, with the climactic issue #5! Art once again by Gordon Purcell and Bob Almond, with colors by Mario Boon and John Hunt and covers from the brushes of JK Woodward and Nick Runge.

I hope you all had as much of a blast reading it as I had writing it, and special thanks go out to Paula Block, late of CBS/Paramount, and Marco Palmieri, late of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books, for their help in getting it all off the ground. Look for the collected edition to be out in July, just in time for the San Diego Comic-Con.

Here are the covers and solicitation text again, just in case you missed them from a few days back:

“The time-shattering conclusion! In an alternate history in which the Klingons have conquered Earth, Jean-Luc Picard and his Resistance travel back to the past in a daring, final gambit to restore the timeline and liberate the planet. But what awaits the rebellion may not be what it expected at all, and the fate of the Federation itself hangs in the balance.”

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NYCC and WonderCon Fotoz II

Some more pix from the recent NYCC and WonderCon shows…


DAVE ELLIOT

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Monsieur Elliott had the good fortune to serve as my Editor-in-Chief during his time at Radical; an association that reinvigorate his stature in the industry, after having exhausted the cache of his earlier collaborations with such faded luminaries as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Matt Wagner, Simon Bisley, Mike Mignola, Dave Gibbons, Peter Milligan, Kevin Eastman, Ted McKeever, James O’Barr, Kevin O’Neill, Dave Dorman, Steve Pugh, Michael Zulli, and several dozen other sub-Harris creators. He remains a gentleman, scholar, top mate, and prefers to be introduced at conventions as “Andrew Steven Harris’s editor”.


STEVE NILES

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While at IDW, I became pals with Ben Templesmith, whose wickedly sarcastic humor could not be more in contrast to his 30 Days of Night partner Steve Niles, one of the most genial and soft-spoken guys you could hope to meet; especially considering he became famous by writing stories about vampires chewing people’s heads off. Steve has an intensely creative mind, which has led him to become one of the most prolific writers in the industry; in fact, the Star Trek: Borg Spotlight I wrote for IDW had originally been Steve’s book, until his professional commitments surrounding the 30 Days of Night film forced him to pull out and me to take it on. Much as I had a blast writing it, I’d still love to see what Steve would have done with it.


DAVID HINE

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David is a top-notch writer and artist who actually got his break into Marvel during a NYC blackout, when Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada lit some candles and read David’s horror masterwork Strange Embrace from cover-to-cover. (I’ve read it straight through as well; it’s hypnotic.) Among nearly countless other books (notably Spawn and various X-titles), David went on to write one of my favorite series of recent years, the scandalously overlooked Silent War, with one of the most powerful final pages in recent memory. (Like all good highwayman writers, I even nicked its structure for the final page of Star Trek: The Last Generation #3.)

David had a Silent War sequel planned, ultimately skitched by continuity changes in other company titles, but one night over dinner he told me it involved destroying the entire Marvel Universe, in a miniseries that I dubbed “Sing Along With Black Bolt”. Was he just joking? Is David’s mind really that epically deranged? Go read Strange Embrace, kiddies, and you tell me.


STEVE PUGH

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Steve came up through the ranks of the UK comics industry working alongside the likes of Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano and Ian Edginton before crossing the pond with them during the British invasion of the ’90s. He’s drawn characters ranging from Hellblazer to Superman to Marvel’s mutants, with some Terminator, Judge Dredd and Witchblade mixed in along the way. Also as fine a pub companion as you’re ever likely to find.


BATTON LASH

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I first met Batton many years ago, when I originally moved to San Diego (his wife, Jackie Estrada, is head of the San Diego Comic-Con’s Eisner Awards, the Oscars of the comics industry), having already been a huge fan of his Wolff & Byrd series from the days that we both worked for the folks over at TSR. As fellow former Brooklynites, we’ve both now migrated to the warmer climes of San Diego–and once that happens, my friends, there’s no going back.