[SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers regarding the fates of certain characters that die hard Trekkies may want to avoid.]
Brannon Braga is one of the most prolific writers and producers in the world of "Star Trek," having worked on the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Star Trek: Enterprise," as well as the movies "Star Trek: Generations" and "Star Trek: First Contact." He joins co-writers Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett as well as artist Joe Corroney to write his first "Star Trek" comic book, the four-issue "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Hive" miniseries from IDW Publishing. The series focuses on the popular alien race known as the Borg with the first issue on sale September 19.
"The book begins 500 years in the future, when the Borg have assimilated everything and everyone. And there's nothing left in the galaxy," Braga explained to CBR News. "And Locutus, who is now kind of the king of the Borg, has an awakening. Some part of [Capt. Jean-Luc] Picard lives on inside him. The Borg are going through a bit of an existential crisis, in that once you've assimilated everything, they still haven't achieved that perfection that they seek. And Locutus decides to destroy the Borg, but to do that he's going to have to utilize himself, 500 years ago, when this whole Borg final assimilation started. And that takes us to so-called present day, where [Captain] Picard is going about his business. So it's an adventure that takes place in two different time periods."
Braga spoke extensively with CBR News about his first foray into "Trek" comics, his thoughts on the franchise as a whole, and his other upcoming TV projects.
CBR News: Brannon, how did this project come about?
Brannon Braga: I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember if IDW approached me, which I think they did. I don't know how the heck it happened. I'm pretty sure they approached me to do a book, and it just so happened that I was eager to get back into the "Star Trek" universe. It's been a long time. And I had an idea for a story. I did a lot of Borg on "Voyager," but really, the Borg belong to "Next Generation." And it felt like there was one final chapter to be told. With no budget restrictions. I just thought it would be a great way to do the story. This was over two years ago. I got sidelined by "Terra Nova." It took a long time to get going, but I'm writing the final issue now.
Did you work within any existing continuity from the comics or novels?
One of the first questions I asked IDW was, "What universe am I in?" With the addition of J.J. Abrams' universe, there are several options on the table. I was told that they were following the TV shows/feature films, so this comic book picks up about three years after "Nemesis."
Are there any other notable guest stars from the "Star Trek" world that show up in the series?
Seven of Nine is the only crossover character. We learn that she willingly went back to be assimilated, because she didn't fit in with humanity anymore. And she makes a return appearance. I think the biggest surprise is that Data returns in a very unexpected way.
Is there a time travel aspect to the story?
Yeah, there's a time travel aspect. It's not about time travel per se. But yes, the two time periods will meet. We learn that Data's positronic matrix was stored in the hive mind. Locutus rebuilt him as half Data, half Borg. He actually sends that Data back through time. What I like about it, too, is that it has a juicy theme about, is there such a thing as justifiable genocide, even when it's your enemy? Picard has to face that. I was very happy with the way it turned out.
What was it like for you coming back to these characters and this universe after so much time away?
It was awesome. I've been away from Picard and the gang since the mid-'90s. It's been a long time. It came very naturally. I really missed these guys. Writing for a comic book is different than writing for a TV show. It's much more visual. There's not a lot of yakking going on. That was definitely different. But it was great.
What was the collaborative process like with co-writers Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett?
I devised the story and wrote a 10-page outline and sent it to the IDW folks. Once that was approved, I brought Terry Matalas, who was my assistant for eight years and is now a successful television writer, to come in with his partner and do the initial pass of the book, of each issue. And then they hand that off to me and I do my pass, and then I hand it off to IDW, and that's how we work.
Is that more like the writing process that you deal with on a TV show?
I definitely modeled it after that process. The writer will do a draft, and usually I'll give the writer the chance to do their own rewriting, but as was often the case in television, there was no time here. But it's extremely helpful when you're doing other things, as I am, and you can't dedicate yourself full-time, to have an initial draft done for you. It's better than starting at ground zero.
What strengths does artist Joe Corroney bring to this story?
He certainly brings a photorealism to the art, and I think part of the appeal of the comic books is the characters are highly recognizable. In a way Joe makes it feel like you're actually looking at an episode of the television show. That to me is what really works about his artwork. It's photorealistic while at the same time he kind of makes it his own. He's got really cool compositions.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of the Borg?
I can only tell you what it appeals to me, which is, first of all, they're cool cybernetic organisms. They really were the first really cool villains on "Next Generation." The concept behind them is fantastic: a hive mind. It's so antithetical to so many American ideals of individuality and so forth. They're the ultimate communists. I hadn't seen anything on television like the Borg. And they evolved. I think what really made people excited was once Picard got assimilated, and it took on a personal dimension. And then the Queen was introduced in "First Contact." And then the Borg just kind of took on a life of their own. Like the Klingons did so long ago, they've become part of the fabric of "Star Trek." They're the kind of villain that you can keep elaborating on. Their whole philosophy of perfection, established in the movie "First Contact," was new at that time. Otherwise they would be just zombies. They'd get kind of boring after a while.
Was having Seven of Nine interact with characters from "Next Generation" something that you had wished you could have done on "Voyager"?
No, it's nothing I ever thought about, probably because I knew it was impossible. I did, somewhat controversially, put "Next Generation" characters on "Enterprise" in the final episode, which a lot of people really hated, but I'd never contemplated a crossover. The only crossover that was exciting was there was a brief time when we were going to put Captain Kirk on "Enterprise," and we even met with William Shatner, but it just never happened. We had some story concocted about why Kirk was there and how he got there. I don't remember. I think Shatner had a pitch. It was actually going to be a pretty cool two-part episode. I don't know exactly what happened. It might have been that we couldn't make a deal with Shatner or something like that.
Would you be interested in writing more "Star Trek" comics in the future?
Yeah. IDW's already mentioned that they would love to do it again. It was such a fun process for everybody involved that if the book does halfway decent business, I'll do it again for sure.
Have you ever considered comics extensions of other TV series you've been involved with, like "Terra Nova" or "FlashForward?"
Yes, most definitely. I think "Terra Nova" would lend itself well, and we've figured out a Season Two we never did. So that's a possibility. IDW would have to work something out with Fox, but that's something that we had a very, very preliminary discussion about. I think something like "FlashForward," not so much. It's not as visual. I'd love to do a "Voyager" book or an "Enterprise" book or something. Things that haven't been done yet in the "Star Trek" universe. I'd love to do a special "Voyager" graphic novel. Find a way to those different shows again.
Do you have a stockpile of ideas from working on those shows?
Oh yeah, I still have ideas. Well, I pretty much used all of them I could use. I never didn't use an idea. But you can just do things, because there are no budgetary restrictions, you start to think of storytelling in a different way. Also, you can make more decisive moves dramatically when you don't have to come back to the television next week. Make bolder moves, like resurrecting Data. That would have been a move where there would have been much discussion. Brent Spiner doesn't want to do it -- oh well. In a comic book, not only can you use all the characters, [but] they haven't aged.
There have been early rumors of a potential new "Star Trek" TV series. Is that something you'd potentially be involved with, or want to be involved with?
I miss "Star Trek" terribly. So every day that goes by, I miss the universe and I miss the kind of storytelling that you can do on a show like that. So I wouldn't rule out the possibility. I don't really think that I would be approached, necessarily. I have no idea what the people who control the property are thinking. I suspect they're probably going to let the movies play out for a while, and not dilute that.
Were you a fan of J.J. Abrams' movie?
Yeah, certainly. I won't lie to you -- I wish I had had something approaching his budget. I had budget envy. Special effects aside, he cast it to perfection, I thought. The character work was -- it was really a movie about Spock, and I thought it delivered in a big way on Spock. There were just such great embellishments, like the Vulcan school. The Vulcan children's school was such a cool concept and visually really cool. I just loved the idea of a schoolyard fight with Vulcans. It had so many things like that.
Can you talk about "Malice," the new series you're developing for FX?
It's a supernatural thriller that kind of reimagines the Salem witch trials. It takes place in the 17th century. It involves a sleeper cell of witches inside Salem trying to take down America before it can be born. It's actually very cool. We're writing the pilot now, and it's been a lot of fun. We're still working out the script.
What else are you working on?
I'm working on a reboot of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" with Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan for Fox. It's 13 episodes. We're in the writing phase, or I should say the rewriting phase. It's actually kind of a dream. I'd never done a nonfiction piece for television. It's been really challenging but also kind of a dream come true. Both Seth and I were huge fans of the original, so to be working with Ann Druyan, Carl's wife, is amazing. The plan is to put that on somewhere in early to mid-2014. A long way off. But it's a massive project with a lot of visual effects, so it's going to take time.
"Star Trek: The Next Generation: Hive" #1 is on sale September 19 from IDW.