In Star Trek: Countdown, the graphic novel prequel to this spring's Star Trek movie reboot (collecting the four-issue run of IDW's comic book series), Ambassador Spock starts one of the most important speeches of his life with a lame joke. Not sure if that's a trick out of his daddy's diplomatic handbook, but the bon mot gets yucks from the Romulan senate (surely the toughest room in the galaxy). The moment feels forced, out of character, illogical.
[WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
That's just one of a few sour notes in Star Trek: Countdown (IDW Publishing, $17.99). There's also a Klingon commander falling for a trap so obvious you'll be tempted to bark at the page "Don't go in there!", the same way you'd yell at a cheerleader going to the attic to investigate strange sounds in a slasher flick, and a Vulcan mind meld less about the joining of two minds than it is a way to hammer fake drama into a scene.
The plot, by upcoming Star Trek movie screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and comic-book scripters Mike Johnson and Tim Jones, features three MacGuffins: something called decalithium (magnitudes more MacGuffin-y than dilithium); "red matter," which I guess is angry dark matter; and a spatial threat too much like Ed Wood's "Solaronite" menace from Plan 9. These are Swiss Army MacGuffins, able to do whatever the plot needs them to do. There's also an arc that might be a little too close to Star Trek VI, in the form of an endangered empire and its interaction with the Federation.
All of which is not to say that Star Trek: Countdown is a bad read. What makes the graphic novel work isn't just geek-gasmic updates of various Next Generation characters (and it'd be a "Vader-is-Luke's-father-sized" shame to tell you which ones, as each Next Gen character's entrance is pretty grand). Where Countdown scores big is in giving Trek-hungry fans a portrait of the upcoming movie's villain, the Romulan captain Nero. Just as "Space Seed" laid the foundation for great movie adversary Khan (say it with me now: "KHAAAaAaAaAAaAAAaaaaaAAAaaN!"), so does Countdown give us a Greek-tragic background for Nero, who has the potential to have those larger-than-life qualities that mark the best Trek villains, from Khan to General Chang to the Borg Queen.
As a graphic novel in and of itself, Countdown is good, not great. As the introduction of a new Trek villain and a prequel to a rebooted franchise, Countdown works a lot better. Rebooting Star Trek is a huge gamble. Countdown is mostly Nero's story, and in the creation of such a bitchin', Ahab-like adversary, Orci and Kurtzman have stacked the deck in their favor.