Warp Factor Trek

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Published by IDW, Star Trek: Picard – Countdown offers a prelude to the associated television series, propelling us into Jean-Luc Picard’s most recent adventure. It was launched in November 2019, setting up the show’s first season to begin on 23 January 2020. This three-issue mini-series deals with the rescue attempts from the imminent Romulan supernova which was established in the 2009 Star Trek film and elaborated on in Season 1 of Picard. Does this comic engage on a warp-speed course to stellar storytelling, or is it a black hole of disappointment?

Issue #1

In 2386, Zhaban and Laris arrive at Château Picard. Laris acknowledges they owe the man who, to save them, risked “everything.”

Laris and Zhaban arrive on Earth

A year earlier, evacuation efforts are under way. Geordi La Forge is overseeing construction of relocation ships at the Utopia Planitia shipyards.

One of the evacuation ships, the USS Verity, is commanded by Admiral Picard. It diverts to the Romulan colony Yuyat Beta, where he and Raffi Musiker are horrified to discover forced labor of a native species. Unwilling to help, the colony’s governor, Shiana, imprisons the Starfleet pair, planning to seize the Verity. In a cell, Picard regrets trusting the Romulans and contemplates the metaphorical clock that represents the impending supernova.

The Verity flying over Yuyat Beta

Issue #2

On Yuyat Beta, Zhaban and Laris consider the risks of aiding Picard, concluding it’s their only option. Picard clashes with Governor Shiana at a dining table until an explosion interrupts. Yuyati rebels, speaking their own language, rescue Picard and Musiker. Picard instructs Musiker to stun the Romulans in self-defence. The Yuyatis guide them to Zhaban, finding his vineyard ablaze. In a cavern with upside-down waterfalls, Laris reveals that she and Zhaban are Tal Shiar operatives.

On the Verity, Lieutenant Newton — left in command — is misled by Shiana. She alleges that a terrorist attack, whose fatalities include Picard and Musiker, has been committed by the planet’s natives. Newton consequently allows Romulan “survivors” to beam aboard.

Musiker voicing skepticism over whether Zhaban and Laris are Tal Shiar agents

Musiker and Picard meanwhile doubt the Tal Shiar claim. As Laris and Zhaban explain, their motivation to help Picard stems from the couple having fallen in love — which is forbidden by the Tal Shiar — as well as their refusal to abandon the Yuyatis. The goal, as Picard explains, is returning him to the Verity.

Meanwhile, Shiana takes control of the ship from a shocked Newton. She threatens him with implied consequences if the crew resists.

Issue #3

Picard reflects on his life. Zhaban takes Picard and Musiker, ostensibly his prisoners, to a Romulan security room. When diplomacy fails, he shoots the guards and contacts the Verity. Shiana answers, demanding command codes. Picard remains composed, anticipating that the crew will regain control. Sure enough, the Romulan intruders are beamed into the brig.

Shiana finds herself whisked away by transporter

Picard invites Zhaban and Laris to the Verity and they beam up with him. He praises Newton for his kindness towards the Romulans, even though they turned out to be treacherous. In the brig, Picard counters Shiana’s paranoia about the Federation evacuations.

When a Tal Shiar Bird-of-Prey arrives, Zhaban reveals that, on behalf of the Tal Shiar, he has commandeered the Verity. Two Romulan warbirds arrive, commanded by Vinux, who is loyal to the Romulan Senate, not the Tal Shiar. Zhaban reconsiders, yielding control of the Verity to Picard.

The Verity encountering the two Romulan warbirds and the Tal Shiar Bird-of-Prey

Back on Yuyat Beta, Picard logs that the Tal Shiar ship fled and Vinux detained Shiana. Picard and Raffi discuss the reduced threat now posed by the Tal Shiar. Since Zhaban and Laris face societal bans, Picard offers them alternative accommodations.

On Mars, Geordi is contemplating Data when Picard calls. He expresses confidence in the future.

Picard looks toward the future, with Newton to his right and Musiker on his left

Status Report

Since the first season of Star Trek: Picard deals with the aftermath of the Romulan evacuation, it’s fitting that this prequel comic features the same mission as it unfolds. With the USS Verity involved in the evacuation, this is also a tie-in to the first Star Trek: Picard novel, Una McCormack’s The Last Best Hope, and even this alone — the effort to create a media event by connecting various stories — is praiseworthy.

In the first issue, it’s interesting to see Laris and Zhaban arrive at Château Picard, encountering such things as grapes and human xenophobia for the first time. It’s also interesting that the Enterprise is briefly mentioned, without any indication as to who is commanding the vessel. An excellent character beat is when Raffi refers to Picard as “JL” for the first time.

Raffi telling Picard why she likes to call him “JL”

The beginning of the second issue, with Zhaban and Laris considering the risks of assisting Picard, is relatively pedestrian. On the other hand, seeing them encounter him for the first time is enjoyable, interestingly also establishing that they met Raffi simultaneously. Upside-down waterfalls are intriguing but don’t seem to make much sense scientifically. Governor Shiana’s double-crossings are surprising but in keeping with her advances in power.

Significant memories which Picard contemplates

The third issue begins with an excellent montage of milestones in Picard’s life… or is that lives? The images shown include Locutus, Kamin, and Picard with the Borg Queen from First Contact. Given how much of a friendly good guy Zhaban is portrayed as in Picard’s first season, his takeover of the USS Verity is shocking. Discovering that he and Laris are known by the Tal Shiar as Agents “Noctis” and “Avem” is also interesting and it’s astonishing to see a couple of D’deridex-class warbirds, establishing that that class was still in service as late as 2385. It would have been great if Commander Vinux had been someone already familiar to Star Trek fans — for example Donatra, from Star Trek Nemesis — instead of a new character. A photograph of Geordi with Data during their TNG days serves as a wonderful Easter egg.

Data and Geordi La Forge

The first issue is let down by its cover, looking like a poorly executed Photoshop effort, since Picard’s head looks unrealistic. The covers of the other two issues are much better. The third issue sports the most impressive of these covers, with its dual image of Raffi and Governor Shiana backdropped by the Romulan Star Empire logo.

The trio of covers
Rating: 3.5/5

Mostly, the characters and species in this comic are highly in character, and the character likenesses are fairly good. The inclusion of Geordi La Forge has added resonance with the TV series, since he returns in the third season of the show. Also, Picard’s careful determination not to commit an act of war against the Romulans is well considered and commendable, as is the way that the end of the story directly sets up its beginning. This is a good story all round, albeit slightly uninspired.

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