Johnson Journeys Out of Darkness with "Star Trek" and "Khan"

IDW Publishing's voyage into the final frontier continued this week with the release of "Star Trek" #25 by writer Mike Johnson and artist Erfan Fajar, the issue finding the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise at the start of the five-year mission of discovery Captain Kirk accepted at the end of this past summer's blockbuster film "Star Trek Into Darkness." In addition to the ongoing flagship Trek title, Johnson also writes this October's "Star Trek: Khan" #1, with art by Claudia Balboni and David Messina. The 5-issue miniseries is intended to delve into the origins of the cryogenically frozen super-soldier played by Benedict Cumberbatch in "Into Darkness."

Johnson spoke with CBR News about both "Star Trek" and "Khan," revealing where the USS Enterprise is headed after emerging from "Darkness," why the Klingons and Romulans are headed to war, who his "pet" characters are, the reason Khan is the ultimate "Star Trek" villain and much more.

CBR News: Where will we find the Enterprise and its crew in this new arc?

Mike Johnson: At the beginning of #25, we find the Enterprise docked at a Starbase on the edge of unexplored space, with their five year mission getting underway in the aftermath of "Star Trek Into Darkness." And we'll meet a new member of the crew with the same last name as a current iconic Enterprise bridge mainstay.

The Klingons have seemed hellbent on war with the Federation for a while. How do they wind up in a war with the Romulans?

I can't tell you that without spoiling the story, but I can say that tensions are high throughout the galaxy. Kirk and company just made an uninvited visit to the Klingon homeworld in the last movie, so the Klingons aren't happy about that. But we know from the 2009 movie that the Klingons held the Romulan known as Nero prisoner for years. And they also had possession of his super-advanced ship, the Narada. And everybody -- Federation, Klingons, Romulans -- saw Vulcan get blown up. And if any of the technology that caused that catastrophe is still around, well, that's bad news for everyone.

How do you characterize the Klingons and the Romulans? How are they alike, and in what ways do they differ?

I think the Klingons and Romulans share the goal of expanding the boundaries of their respective empires. The difference is how they go about it. The Klingons are all about naked, unapologetic aggression. To fight, to win, is to be Klingon. The Romulans are about aggression cloaked in "civilized" manipulation. It's not an accident that their name recalls the Roman Empire. They love grandeur, political tactics, the long game. But they don't hesitate to bring out the big guns when necessary.

If Romulans are like the Romans, who would you compare the Kilngons to?

I think the Klingons represent the old Western European paranoia about the classic barbarian, whether that's the Goths sacking Rome, or the Mongols sweeping in from Asia. It's the idea of a powerful, warlike people with an alien culture who threaten to up-end the so-called "civilized" world. In "Star Trek," of course, we see that the Klingons are just as advanced as the Federation and the Romulans, and are just as civilized, with their own laws and traditions, albeit in a different way.

Will Robert April, who was crucial to your "Into Darkness" lead-up story, be showing up in this arc again?

April doesn't show up in this arc because he's still stewing in a Starfleet rehabilitation facility back on Earth. But he's definitely in the mix for the future. A past captain of the Enterprise who was in league with Alex Marcus and has no love for the Klingons is just too juicy a character to leave on the bench.

How will Spock and Kirk's relationship continue to evolve from the previous arcs and "Into Darkness?"

They're friends now. They trust each other. They respect each other. It doesn't mean they're always going to agree on the best course of action, not by a long shot, but we will see them both at the top of their game exploring the galaxy side by side.

Will Spock get rid of his deathwish anytime soon?

I like to think we all saw his deathwish die onscreen, on top of a flying freighter in San Francisco, when he looked up mid-Khan-punch to see Uhura standing there telling him to stop. Add to that his experience on New Vulcan in the "After Darkness" storyline, and Spock is back to the iconic Spock we know and love. Logic first.

What's Roberto Orci's involvement with this arc?

Bob's involvement is the same as it's been since we started working on the comics before the 2009 movie. He's loves the opportunity to expand the scope of the new "Trek" timeline through the comics, and we talk out each story as we go to make sure we're doing justice to the characters and the franchise.

Have you and Robert discussed laying any seeds for the third film yet?

Totally! So basically, in the third movie, Kirk and Spock...wait, you're breaking up... Are you there...? I can't hear you... [THIS TRANSMISSION HAS BEEN INTERRUPTED BY CBS/PARAMOUNT CYBERNINJAS. HAVE A NICE DAY.]

Will arcs in the series now deal with the ongoing five-year mission Kirk accepted at the end of "Into Darkness" from now on?

Yes, we're on the five year mission now. It runs smack into the galactic threat of the Klingon-Romulan conflict, but after that (with the crew members that survive) we will be going into deep space. We might run into familiar faces and places out there in the stars, but for the most part it's an opportunity to tell stories that take the Enterprise to new places we haven't seen in comics, film, or TV before.

Do you have any "pet" characters in the book, characters who might not have a huge spotlight on them in the films, but you like and can take complete control of their characterization and arcs?

I do. I've adopted Hendorff, aka "Cupcake". I love the idea that he's serving under a Captain he once punched out in a bar fight. I love Zahra, a redshirt who appeared in an original series episode. She plays a bigger role coming up, and we have matched the name to a background actor we saw in "Star Trek Into Darkness." We are also planning to give backstories to other new crew members we glimpsed in the last movie, like the android-looking guy on the bridge.

You're also writing "Star Trek: Khan," a prequel to "Into Darkness." How deep into Khan's origins will you go?

This new miniseries shows us the life of Khan from his earliest days through to the events of "Star Trek Into Darkness," and even a little beyond. We go deep into his origins, which takes us back to the late 20th Century as we see how the Eugenics Wars unfolded.

I'm about to go super-nerd on you here -- if the new "Trek" films have only changed continuity from the point when Nero destroyed Kirk's father's ship, how in the heck did Khan's origin shift as well, if he was frozen in the late 20th Century? Shouldn't everything be exactly the same up until the point Nero re-entered the timestream in "Star Trek?"

Well, all we know about Khan's origin is what we've seen in "Space Seed" and "Wrath of Khan," and we are not changing any of that. In fact, we're sticking to those canon sources and extrapolating out from there. It's really only bits and pieces. As for whether absolutely everything was the same in both timelines before Nero came through, I like to point out that, if you want to get absolutely literal, the physical look of Kirk, Spock and the rest are slightly different. Shatner doesn't look like Pine, etc. So who's to say there aren't subtle changes in other things?

Will "Khan" have any ramifications on your ongoing "Star Trek" series?

It will, but I can't spoil exactly how yet. Check back in 2014!

What do you think is it about Khan that's elevated him above any other single "Star Trek" villain in the minds of fans?

In a word: Montalbán. In both the original "Space Seed" episode and in "Wrath of Khan", Montalbán infused the character with unforgettable charisma and intensity. And of course I'm biased, but Benedict Cumberbatch honored Montalbán's performance not by imitating it, but by embracing the same spirit of the character. Two words: "Cold corpses." Best "Trek" villain ever.

"Star Trek" #25 is available now, in stores and digitally, from IDW Publishing. "Khan" #1 debuts in October.

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