Writers: Mike Johnson and Kirsten Beyer, Artist: Angel Hernandez, Colorist: Joana Lafuente, Letters: Neil Uyetake, Cover Artist: Sara Pitre-Durocher.
Now just over one month away from the premiere of Star Trek: Picard, and the vaunted return of Patrick Stewart’s legendary Starfleet captain, anticipation for the new series is building among fans circles and fans of television, especially with confirmation that a second season is already on the way.
Star Trek: Picard - Countdown #2 continues detailing the incident that led Picard—now of course an Admiral having been promoted in the years since Star Trek: Nemesis—to leave Starfleet by the beginning of the Picard tv series, at which point he is effectively in his dotage, retired in his native France. There has been much speculation about these circumstances, and in the first issue of Countdown, writers Mike Johnson and Kirsten Beyer (also a staff writer on the tv series) presented a classic The Next Generation moral conundrum as key to Picard’s bold and life-altering choice. Can he stand by and allow the elitists running a distant Romulan colony to be safely rescued from environmental disaster while leaving millions of indigenous people to die? This is Jean-Luc Picard, so what do you think?
Countdown #2, therefore, is concerned with building out the detail and explanation for exactly what is happening on Yuyat Beta, the remote colony world Picard’s ship the USS Verity was diverted towards while beyond the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Verity was there leading humanitarian Starfleet efforts to safeguard and transport Romulan refugees out of their territory before the Hobas supernova event that Star Trek (2009) canonically states is to come. In this issue we learn key facts which will flow directly into Star Trek: Picard.
Principally, as the first issue confirmed Picard’s relationship to series regular Raffi Musiker, so issue two explains how Picard has two Romulan refugees living with him on Earth over a decade into the future. The explanation makes sense in terms of the wider Star Trek canon, reviving an organisation within the Romulan political structure that played a key part in the 24th century era of the franchise—particularly Deep Space Nine—and subverting what you might expect from such characters. Unexpectedly, Countdown suggests a love story at the heart of what rapidly descends into typical Romulan treachery as Picard remains a fixed point; he will not sacrifice the indigenous Yuyatis people, who have already been enslaved by Romulan conquerors, simply to maintain the shaky detente between these Alpha Quadrant superpowers.
One of Picard’s future Romulan aides, Laris, does at least call Picard and Raffi on the hypocrisy of humans decrying Romulan civilisation for their colonial efforts: “Tell me, what do you humans call yourselves when you settle other worlds?” This is a not so-veiled reference to the Federation’s soft-colonialism, absorbing different cultures into the hegemony of their futuristic United Nations. The Romulans are, of course, somewhat blinkered by this analysis; the Federation don’t enslave cultures, they invite them to be part of a collective exchange of lifestyles and ideas, whereas the Romulan model parallels far more ancient human imperialists—particularly the Romans, who are of course their historical antecedents that Gene Roddenberry originally primarily based them on. But this, coupled with the strong pro-environmental message of Countdown, that Western civilisation needs to lead the way in supporting refugees fleeing from destructive climate change, gives Johnson & Beyer’s work a stronger and clearer contemporary message, especially given we are entering an era of capitalist colonialism as the 2020s dawn.
Ultimately though, for all of these big political and philosophical ideas, Countdown remains in the spirit of Star Trek and adventure in its short page count. It doesn’t take long for Picard and Raffi to escape capture, and Angel Hernandez’s art and Joana Lafuente’s colors bring to life panels that balance stark Romulan architecture with wonderous, gravity-defying sights such as the Yuyatis cave. The fact that Countdown still manages to pack some of these aspects into what is ostensibly a Picard-centric moral problem is to its credit, and you never feel this issue is lightweight even while it is barrelling very quickly through story. Would more time allow for deeper exploration of the problem, or of our villain, the slippery Governor Shiana? Undoubtedly. But this is a Picard story first and foremost, and he always remains at the centre of it.
One more issue remains for Countdown to conclude the mystery of why Jean-Luc Picard gives up his esteemed Starfleet career, which means Johnson & Beyer have much work to do in the final 25 pages or so, but given the quality of these first two issues they are likely to succeed. One senses Picard will not just be battling Romulans in the final issue, but also Starfleet’s moral code itself, and it could allow for a thrilling set up for Star Trek: Picard’s exploration of a faded hero and how he rediscovers himself once more.
For Star Trek and especially Picard fans, this remains essential reading.
Star Trek: Picard - Countdown #2 is now available from IDW Publishing.