Mike Johnson Beams Up "Star Trek"

Writer Mike Johnson is seated in the captain's chair of the new "Star Trek" ongoing series from IDW Publishing, and thanks to a Kobayashi Maru-inspired twist, he's boldly re-imagining where man has gone before.

The adventures of the crew of Starship Enterprise continue in this new title featuring the cast of the 2009 J.J. Abrams film as they embark on missions that re-imagine the stories from the original television series, adding new threats and characters along the way.

"Star Trek" writer/producer Roberto Orci serves as creative director on the series, which launched in September with a two-part re-envisioning of the "Star Trek: The Original Series" episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Not only does Johnson tell these new stories with the likenesses of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto starring respectively in the iconic roles of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock as opposed to William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but he also incorporates Anton Yelchin's Chekov, a character that didn't appear on "Star Trek: The Original Series" until the second season premiere "Amok Time" and Karl Urban's "Bones" McCoy, who did not appear in the NBC pilot.

Johnson shared news that his stories will tie directly into the mythos spawning from the new film franchise and that a future arc will feature the first, big original comic story, post-movie, which involves the Vulcan response to the apparent Romulan responsibility for the Vulcan homeworld's destruction.

With "Star Trek" #3 in stores now, CBR News spoke to Johnson about the new arc in which he and artists Stephen Molnar and Joe Phillips re-craft the classic episode "The Galileo Seven." Written by legendary Hollywood writer and director Robert Gist, the original episode was conceived as a dramatic look at how Spock deals with the responsibilities of command. How does Johnson and Quinto's interpretation of Spock cope with the new position? You'll have to read "Star Trek" #3 to find out.

CBR News: You're no stranger to writing "Star Trek" comics, having previously worked on projects including the "Nero" and "Countdown" miniseries. That said, I would imagine that writing the re-imagined Enterprise crew from J.J. Abrams' movie must be incredibly exciting.

Mike Johnson: It definitely is, Also slightly terrifying -- but in a good way. I feel very lucky to be contributing to "Star Trek" in any way I can.

Part of Johnson's "Star Trek" re-imagining includes adding new characters to old stories

Are you a long-time fan of "Star Trek: The Original Series" and the spinoff television series and films that followed?

I am indeed. I'm a child of the seventies and eighties, so I was too young to watch the original series broadcasts, but I watched repeats. My earliest action figure memories involved epic battles between the big Mego figures with the bright blue phasers.

I also saw the first motion picture in the theaters when it was first released, along with all the sequels.

Why do you think J.J. Abrams big screen reinterpretations of these iconic characters has been so well received by fans new and old?

I think it's all due to the power of Gene Rodenberry's vision. Like Walt Disney, Rodenberry's imagination changed America's -- and the world's -- popular culture forever. Even people who can't name a single Star Trek episode know who Kirk and Spock are and what they're like as characters. The creators of the new movie, and especially the cast, did an amazing job of honoring the original creators and cast while introducing Trek to new audiences.

Have you had a chance to speak with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto to help you find their voice? And do you feel you have to write the characters differently than a William Shatner Kirk and/or a Leonard Nimoy Spock?

I haven't had a chance to speak to the cast about the comic, but I was able to spend time on the set of the movie in 2009 when it was shooting -- including sitting in the captain's chair when nobody was looking. When it comes to the voices of the different casts, I do my best to give both casts' voices equal influence on the comic script. I basically re-watched each episode a couple of times. Then, when I'm actually scripting each issue, I will have the 2009 movie playing in the background or listen to Michael Michael Giacchino's beautiful score for it, to get me in the "new timeline" mood.

What are major differences between the characters from the original series and the 2009 remake? Conversely, can you name some similarities?

The biggest difference initially was in the makeup of the crew, because Bones and Chekov hadn't joined the show when "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was shot, which forms the basis for our first two issues. Also, there are sets in the original episodes that we didn't see in the new movie, such as the crew conference room, but our artist Stephen Molnar has done a brilliant job of imagining these in a way that fits the design of the new timeline.

In terms of similarities, they are the same beloved dynamics between the members of the crew, albeit with some interesting twists to reflect the new timeline, such as Spock and Uhura's relationship.

Do you have a favorite Enterprise crew member?

I honestly can't choose. In a nutshell: Kirk and Spock for their complexity. Bones for his benevolent cynicism. Uhura for her integrity and skill. Chekov for his brain. Sulu for his heart. Scotty for his Scotty-ness.

When this new comic series was announced, "Star Trek" film writer and producer Roberto Orci said, "Movies cost money. Lots and lots of money. But comics give us unlimited budgets to take the crew of the Enterprise farther than they've ever been." Keeping that in mind, how big is this series going to be?

It starts similar to the scope of the original series and gets bigger as we go. Think of the old "butterfly and the hurricane" analogy. Things start off relatively similar to how they did in the Gary Mitchell story, only to evolve in scope to the point that we get to the first big, original comic story, post-movie, which involves the Vulcan response to the apparent Romulan responsibility for the Vulcan homeworld's destruction.

I understand you are working closely with Orci on this series? Can we expect some input from Alex Kurtzman and J.J. Abrams, as well?

I work very closely with Bob. We talk about which original episodes will work best for adaptation in the comic, particularly with respect to the arcs of the characters in the new timeline. Bob reviews the comic scripts and art, pointing out any places where the comic might conflict with events of the upcoming sequel. Since Bob is the biggest and most knowledgeable Trek fan among the movie gang, he runs point.

You kicked things off in the series with a re-imagining of "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the original episode featuring members of the crew developing telepathic and telekinetic powers with an evil bent. Can you give us a tease of some other classic episodes we will see re-imagined in the months ahead?

We are breaking episodes into two comic issues, rather than cramming each one into 22 pages and doing a disservice to the stories. "Star Trek" #3 and #4 are based on "The Galileo 7," which is a dramatic look at how Spock deals with the responsibilities of command, with the added twist that in this new timeline he was technically captain of the Enterprise for a short time as seen in the movie. We'll explore how he feels about adjusting to the role of XO.

Finally, you mentioned earlier that this series is tied to the movie continuity. Will you be leading the Enterprise towards the 2013 sequel, and will events from the movie effect your comic book series?

Definitely. The great thing about working with Bob and being privy to the development of the next movie is that we can really tie everything together in the same way we did with the "Countdown" prequel miniseries for the last movie. Plans are in the works for a similar prequel to the next movie. If we're lucky enough to continue the comic series after the next movie, we would definitely want to show the effects of the film on the crew in the comics.

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Tags: star trek, idw publishing, mike johnson, jj abrams, stephen molina, robert orci

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