Among all the classic episodes from the original Star Trek TV series, "The Trouble With Tribbles" ranks high among fan favorites.
But now that the Star Trek universe has been rebooted in the J.J. Abrams movie, things happen a little differently.
Star Trek, the IDW comic series that started last year, has been retelling the classic TV episodes within the new movie continuity. Next comes the Tribbles, and this time around they invade Earth.
Written by Mike Johnson with assistance by Roberto Orci (co-writer and producer of the new Star Trek films), the comic is canon in the movie universe. Mixing old storylines with new, original stories, the Star Trek comic bridges the gap between the first Star Trek movie in 2009 and its upcoming sequel, set to release next year.
The Star Trek sequel will continue the "rebooted" universe, taking Kirk, Spock and the original crew into a new timeline of adventures. The title of second Star Trek film remains unnamed, and its villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is unknown, although rumored to be Khan.
Johnson, who also co-writes DC's Supergirl, has been tasked by IDW and Orci to set things up for the Star Trek movie sequel as he writes the new Star Trek comic.
Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about the Tribbles and what else readers can expect from IDW's Star Trek universe.
Newsarama: Mike, now that you're approaching a year into the series, as you've tweaked classic episodes to fit the new timeline, have you gotten feedback from fans? What do they think when some of their favorite moments from the original series are changed? Are they as accepting of it as they were of the movie?
Mike Johnson: I wouldn’t be a professional comics writer if I didn’t admit that I go online and scour the intertubes for whatever feedback I can. Overall, the reception has been gratifyingly positive. It’s interesting that there seems to be an even split between people wanting more stories based on original episodes and more stories that are completely original.
Nrama: Do you ever hesitate to change the more iconic moments? Or does the movie universe open the door for even more drastic changes?
Johnson: The directive that Bob [Roberto Orci, Star Trek writer/producer] gave me was “don’t hold back.” So I’ve taken that to heart. And I think it would be the wrong approach to be too beholden to the original stories.
Nrama: Any example of a story you changed because it fit the new universe better?
Johnson: In the adaptation of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” we had Spock being the one that saves Kirk when Gary Mitchell is on the rampage. This was a complete departure from the original episode, but it fit the new timeline in which Spock and Kirk’s relationship is still being defined.
Nrama: How much of a Star Trek fan were you before getting to work on it, and was the chance to work within the world of Star Trek like a dream come true for you?
Johnson: Definitely a dream come true. I remember playing with the big Mego Star Trek figures when I was barely old enough to walk. I discovered the original series in reruns, and then saw all of the movies in the theater. It’s as exciting and humbling to write for these characters and this universe.
Nrama: So Mike, since you're writing canon stories, are you basically the "keeper" of the movie Star Trek universe? Or is Robert Orci? Do you guys have a timeline somewhere and keep track of this stuff, to avoid continuity errors?
Johnson: Well, we call the current keepers of the Trek lore, the “Supreme Court," the team making the movies. So I guess I’m more like a clerk of the Court.
I work based on what [Star Trek director] J.J. [Abrams] and the gang are doing. There’s not a big leather-bound padlocked book with all the secrets, but I have Bob on speed-dial to make sure whatever we do in the comics doesn’t contradict what the plan is, and can instead help expand it beyond the films.
Nrama: Let's talk about what we've seen in the series so far. This new Kirk feels just a tad different from the one in the old TV series. What are the motivations for the changes, and can you give examples of ways you've portrayed that in the issues so far?
Johnson: The cues for the characterization come from the 2009 movie. It’s very much a story about a young, new crew still learning on the job. I combine that with our knowledge of who the characters are as we’ve come to know them in the original timeline, so it’s a matter of showing how these younger versions still reflect who we know they are at their core. In Kirk’s case, for example, his inherent bravery, his ethics, his curiosity, his confidence, that’s all there. But now we see him learning to be a captain in a way we haven’t before.
Nrama: How about Spock -- how is the Zach Quinto character different from the one we saw in Leonard Nimoy's early portrayal, and can you give any examples of the way you've shown that in the comic?
Johnson: Taking a cue from the last movie, I think Quinto’s Spock struggles more with his hybrid genealogy. Nimoy’s Spock, particularly in the beginning of the original series, is much more stereotypically “Vulcan.” The revelation of his intense, more “human" emotions came as the series progressed. But we saw Quinto’s Spock having to cope with his emotions right away given what happened to the Vulcan homeworld and his human mother.Ironically, the loss of Vulcan has caused him to embrace his Vulcan side even more, and we’ve seen that emotional detachment play out in the third and fourth issues of the comic, inspired by the original episode “The Galileo 7.”
Nrama: It's fascinating to see how these small differences impact the way the stories play out. Are there any other characters who you have purposely shown having different reactions than they did in the original series?
Johnson: Scotty has a less idealistic view of Starfleet than he might have had in the original series. Uhura is obviously in a relationship with Spock, so we’ve seen how she deals with the potentially deadly situations both she and Spock find themselves in. Overall, though, it’s a balance between the characters as we’ve known them and the new timeline we’re still exploring.
Nrama: So far, it's felt like the story of the comics series have become increasingly divergent from the original series. Is that true, and will it continue?
Johnson: Very much so. It’s the “butterfly flaps its wings, causes a hurricane” analogy. We started off with small deviations, but as we proceed, we’re getting further and further from the original timeline. Issues #9 and #10, “The Return of the Archons,” is an example of how the new timeline diverges significantly from the original story. The last movie was the butterfly. This series builds up to the hurricane that is the next movie.
Nrama: You recently did the first truly original story in the series, based on how the Vulcans and Romulans react after the events of the 2009 movie. Were there any hints in there about the next movie?
Johnson: I always try to put little hints in where I can, with Bob’s permission, but that Romulus story was more about continuing a thread from the ’09 movie, and also setting up a new status quo for the Federation and the Romulans to be explored in future comics, books, games, etcetera.
Nrama: Then you're dropping hints about a larger tapestry in the background of these stories, tying into the sequel?
Johnson: Definitely. The hints are not the kind that will spoil anything in the movie. They are more retroactive, in the sense that after you see the movie you can go back and see where things were set up. Some are very direct; others are more thematic. My favorite so far is in issue #12, the conclusion of the Tribble story.
Nrama: Yeah, let's talk about the Tribble story, which starts in this month's issue #11 and continues in August's #12, retelling the episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles." What can you reveal about the story, which you've titled "The Truth About Tribbles?"
Johnson: We’ll get to see the Tribble homeworld, meet the Tribbles’ natural predators, and witness the Tribble invasion of Earth. It’s equal parts fuzzy and epic.
Nrama: Invasion of earth? Fantastic. Can you reveal any of the other classic episodes you're reinterpreting in the series over the coming months?
Johnson: I would love to revisit the “Mirror Universe” with the new crew.
Nrama: Any chance we'll see Khan soon?
Nrama: Right. Well let me rephrase... when you do get around to telling a story about Khan, will his appearance tie into the movie sequel?
Johnson: You’re breaking up.
Nrama: Well, you can't blame me for asking, can you?
Johnson: Nope, I can’t.
Nrama: Will we see you writing more "original" stories during fall 2012 and winter/spring 2013 as you bring the comic book series closer to next year's film?
Johnson; Yes, the stories will depart further and further from the original series. We will use a few original series concepts as jumping off points, but the new timeline is moving in a radically different direction.
Nrama: I know you haven't officially announced a prequel mini-series (similar to "Countdown") for next year's Star Trek movie, but is there a possibility that it will happen?
Johnson: Definitely a possibility. Plans are afoot.
Nrama: Any idea how it would work with this ongoing series?
Johnson: Ideally, the prequel would be its own mini-series like the original Countdown, while the ongoing continues to tell other stories that build up to the sequel.
Nrama: Since this ongoing series is supposed to fill in the time between the 2009 movie and the 2013 movie, are there plans for what happens to the comic after the 2013 movie? Or is that still undetermined?
Johnson: Nothing certain yet, but we would all like to continue the series beyond the movie release. At that point, we can really go where we haven’t gone before without any fear of contradicting or spoiling anything in the movie.
Nrama: Interesting. Mike, we've talked recently about your work on Supergirl with Michael Green. Is there anything else you can tell fans that you have coming up?
Johnson: We are rolling toward our “Zero Issue”, which is the most important issue since our first one. Big reveals about how and why Kara was sent to Earth.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the Star Trek comic book?
Johnson: If you like it, tell your friends! I’ve met readers who were surprised to find out there was a series tied into the movie universe, and who were not huge comics fans before this. Hopefully we can get some cross-pollination going. Get comics fans into Trek, and Trek fans into comics!
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