The three-part series (each issue slightly longer, at 24-story-pages, rather than the normal Star Trek 20-page book) was brought to us by writers Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson; a team that have previously worked on all of IDW's Discovery comics. Johnson has been busy tying into the leading edge of Star Trek productions since IDW's first Countdown series for the first Kelvin timeline movie (subsequently writing most of the numerous Kelvin timeline comics that followed), while Beyer is no less than the co-creator of Picard, a writer on Discovery, and has a highly regarded run of Voyager novels to her name too. They are joined by artist Angel Hernandez, who has worked with them on several of the previous Discovery and Kelvin timeline comics too. So we enter this story in safe hands, very familiar with IDW's Star Trek house style, which baring a few more experimental tales is normally very screen accurate in visual style, and adapt at teasing out a prequel story to a new production.
The story opens with Zhaban and Larris newly settled on Earth, and so sets the scene for this being their origin story as much as anything. They're background as a Tal Shiar agents is expanded upon in a surprisingly low key way; they have been resident on a Romulan colony world for many years, working in vineyards and monitoring the peace between the Romulan colonists and the native Yuyati people, who seem to be slave labour on the vineyards. It's not quite the high espionage background I would expect from the characters as they appear in the series; but maybe they had more eventful earlier careers. What's really interesting here though is a flirting discussion on colonialism; the language of colonialists is briefly touched upon in the second issue, before Picard himself shuts down a debate on the issue, but comes back forcefully in the third issue when Zhaban's choice to support Picard, and trust the Federation, is based on his acknowledgement of the Romulan subject races being as much Romulan citizens as any Romulan - This point isn't laboured in the book, but says a lot about Zhaban's character, particularly in contrast to the Romulan governor, and villain of the piece, who is very much a Romulan exceptionalist. This touches upon issues of nationalism and nativism that are prevalent in our current real-world political discourse around the globe, in a fairly subtle but poignant way, very much following the lead of similar analogy in the TV series. As a consequence we see Zhaban and Larris aren't just refugees that have come to admire Picard for saving the Romulan people, but very much on the same ethical footing as him.
The story is framed with scenes of Geordi in charge of the fleet building work at Utopia Planitia. I was rather surprised the final shot didn't bring us the Synth attack on Mars and the loss of La Forge. I found the ending we did get surprisingly upbeat, knowing what's to come, but can appreciate the choice to go that way: Picard faced adversity from a historical opponent that he was determinedly trying to help, and found allies within that let him do so - He overcame the problems of working with an enemy, only for the Federation to then be the ones to undo that work by cancelling the mission. The outcome of that is seen in the TV series, so I guess it didn't need to be here; this just sets the scene.
The series is a great set up for Raffi, Zhaban, and Larris, and I certainly felt enhanced viewing the first few episodes knowing some of their backstory, and the nature of their relationships with Picard. I would have enjoyed learning more about the Romulan evacuation (and seeing how this version of events contrasts with the original Kelvin Countdown series, where the supernova was not nearly as long-foreseen); we learn at least that it's been going on for some time, and several planets have already been cleared - I wonder how much more we might learn on-screen, or in the forthcoming Picard tie-in novel; maybe some of my curiosity will be sated. Like I'm sure everyone else, I'd also love to know what has become of the rest of the TNG characters, but that's not at all what this series was for, and having even got a couple of moments with Geordi was a welcome surprise.
For character building alone, this series is worth picking up. The individual issues are all available now, and while I think you'll lose some of the impact of the backstory to wait, if you'd prefer to, the omnibus is due out in June.
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