In the latest issue of IDW Publishing's "Star Trek" monthly, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise embark on a new five-year tour under the watchful eye of writer Mike Johnson. Produced in conjunction with "Star Trek: Into Darkness" screenwriter Roberto Orci, IDW's series follows the ongoing adventures of J.J Abram's rebooted Kirk and crew, filling in the between-movies adventures of the iconic crew as the 2016 release date of "Star Trek 3" approaches. In the 2-part story "Behemoth," illustrated by guest artist Cat Staggs, Johnson gives readers what he calls an "unashamedly 'Trek' take on 'Moby Dick,' complete with an alien Ahab."
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While Issue #41 brings a new character to 'Trek," fans can expect more classic elements to debut in the series' pages soon, including '60s TV show character Irina Galliulin and a 2-part tribute to original series episode "The Tholian Web." Johnson also revealed over the course of our conversation that he'd like to bring introduce popular "Star Trek: The Next Generation" villains the Borg to the Abrams-rebooted universe, detailed Roberto Orci's plans to sow the seeds of "Star Trek 3" in the comic book and more.
CBR News: Mike, the crew embarks on their second five-year mission in "Star Trek" #41. How did they do on their first mission? And where are they headed now?
Mike Johnson: Since their first mission was interrupted by the events of "Star Trek: Into Darkness," this is like a fresh start for them, to get as far away from Earth as possible and do the jobs they signed up to do.
I think the first mission pre-"Darkness" was a chance for them to get to know each other better after they were brought together in the first movie. Those are the adventures we saw in the first couple years of the ongoing [comic] series. A lot has happened since then, and now they are on their way into uncharted space with more confidence in their skills and in each other. They are headed towards the edge of the Alpha Quadrant, but as we will see at the end of the two-part "Behemoth" story [beginning in "Star Trek" #41], you can never predict where you'll end up.
I've been thinking a lot about the voyage of the Enterprise as a futuristic parallel to the voyages of the great oceanic explorers of history, from all cultures. (Watch "Master and Commander" if you haven't seen it already, a great "secretly 'Star Trek'" movie with the interplay between Crowe and Bettany as Kirk and Spock.) Many historical accounts documented "sea monsters" that were simply organisms as alien to them as new species would be to Kirk & Co. "Behemoth" is a look at how one of those encounters unfolds in the twenty-third century. It's unashamedly a "Trek" take on "Moby Dick," complete with an alien Ahab.
Classic "Star Trek" crewmember Irina Galliulin makes her debut in "Behemoth." Why bring her from the TV show to the comics? What does she add to the crew's dynamic?
My goal for the next year of the comics is to show a wider slice of life aboard the Enterprise, at all levels of the ship, and that means introducing new faces. I like to give a nod to the original timeline when I can, so I brought back Irina, who was once a love interest for Chekov. There's a hint of that when we first meet her in the comic, but she's really here to add a new voice to the cast with unique scientific expertise of her own, not to be somebody's girlfriend.
How closely are you working with "Star Trek: Into Darkness" screenwriter Roberto Orci on these upcoming stories? Are seeds for "Star Trek 3" being planted in the comic?
Bob's busy producing the next movie for 2016, but he signed off on the concepts coming up in the comic, and I'm running with them. We definitely plan to sow the seeds of "Trek 3" in the comic as the production proceeds. The hope is to do a third "Countdown" prequel for the next movie, so we'll have a trilogy of prequel comics to match the trilogy of films.
Which characters have been having the most fun to write? Which have been the most surprising?
I love them all, but I particularly enjoy writing Bones, because I'm a huge fan of Karl Urban's performance, and I try to "hear" his delivery as I write dialogue.
Most surprising would be Kirk, digging deeper into his thoughts about the responsibilities of the job and learning how to lead. There's so much to explore there, given that this is a younger version that the Kirk in the original series.
How do you decide when to incorporate classic "Star Trek" elements into the series versus developing a fully original story or character?
I think the key is to introduce classic elements only when they make sense for the stories and characters in the new outline. The Gary Mitchell story that started the current comic series, for instance, was a great example to show how Kirk would handle both an unprecedented threat and the loss of a friend while on the job.
It's tempting to keep revisiting the well of the original series because it's so much fun to show how things can be different in the new timeline, and we have a story coming up that revisits a classic episode in a new light, but we're careful not to make those types of stories the sole point of the new comics.
Which classic episode is that?
The next one will be "The Tholian Webs," a 2-part story coming in issues #46 and #47. And yes, that's "Webs," plural. We don't want every story to be a re-imagining of an old episode, but it's so much fun to show how the new crew reacts to iconic characters and threats from the original series. We choose carefully and make sure we bring something new to the story.
What classic elements are you itching to bring back next?
I would love to have the new crew meet the Borg -- mostly so we can have a cover showing Spock-as-Borg. Or Keener-as-Borg, even. Seeing Kirk go up against the embodiment of the no-win scenario would be epic. But having just had Q guest-starring in the series, we don't want it to turn into "'Next Generation' villain of the month."
Have you ever had any stories turned down?
I've been very lucky in being able to write pretty much whatever my little Trekkie heart desires. Some stories are given priority over others, with the emphasis placed on showing new things, or new spins on familiar concepts.
You have guest artist Cat Staggs joining you on"Behemoth" -- what's it like working with her?
Cat is fantastic. It's a challenge to find artists who can handle all the demands of a "Star Trek" comic: likenesses, advanced technology, bizarre aliens, epic scope. Cat does all of that, and more. I can't say too much about what we've cooked up without spoiling it, but I can say that she created the most incredible visuals out of my request for "an alien space whale."
"Alien space whale?!"
Check out "Behemoth!" It's as close as I'll get to writing "Moby Dick" in space.
"Star Trek" #41, by writer Mike Johnson and artist Cat Staggs, is out now from IDW Publishing.