By Adam B. Vary
December 04, 2012 at 05:15 PM EST

That wily J.J. Abrams: He gives us just enough yummy crumbs to tantalize our taste buds for the full meal. His latest tease, the poster for next summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, is just such an appetizer platter. It contains a handful of surprising clues as to what he’s got cooking for his follow-up to his 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, clues designed to ignite deep-dish geek outs across our glorious planet. So let’s not waste any more time and begin considering each of these engaging morsels one by one: 

1. Who is that man with the killer fashion sense? Instead of Chris Pine or Zachary Quinto, the general consensus is that the lone figure in the poster with his back to the camera is Benedict Cumberbatch (i.e. Benny Batch) as [Fill in iconic Trek character here who could be Khan Noonien Singh but could also be a young version of Soran from Star Trek: Generations, why not?]. Much of that perfectly logical reasoning stems from the paparazzi photos from the Star Trek Into Darkness set that leaked last February, showing Cumberbatch sporting a similarly shaped long leather jacket. But it also presents some other intriguing questions: So where are Kirk and Spock? What role did Cumberbatch’s character play in the sweeping destruction before him? And how soon should we start making our own black leather jackets in time for next year’s Comic-Con?

The most impressive part about Cumberbatch’s placement in the center of this shot is that it also places his character, already a subject of intense Trekkie speculation, that much more in the spotlight. Abrams seems to be telling us that his movie is in some way about Cumberbatch’s character. Fascinating.

NEXT: Where are we again?

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2. London calling. Enter “London” into Memory Alpha, the massive Star Trek wikipedia, and all you’ll get back is basically a bunch of references to various holodeck-themed Trek episodes. Which is to say, the famed British capital does not cast much of a shadow in the Trek universe. But thanks to the presence of some key structures in this poster — the Gherkin (above, center), the Eye (on the previous page, at far left) — it’s clear that London is ready for its big Trek close up. Also, apparently the city has undergone something of a major architectural expansion through the 23rd century, but it’s still not immune to the occasional blitz of smoldering rubble.

Given Cumberbatch’s British heritage, one’s also left to wonder how the fanboy certainty that he must be playing Khan — a genetic superman who ruled over much of Asia and the Middle East and was first played with a regal Latin accent by Ricardo Montalban — could be reconciled with the possibility that Benny Batch will keep his own regal British accent and appears in this poster to be gazing covetously upon the seat of British power.

NEXT PAGE: They’re really going with that title, huh?

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3. What’s in a name? Even with all the coyness about Cumberbatch’s character, the most curious creative decision about the sequel thus far has got to be its title. It’s understandable that Abrams and Co. would want to differentiate their Trek films from the TOS and TNG cast Trek films by hitting upon a title that doesn’t requite a roman numeral or a colon. But the odd syntax of Star Trek Into Darkness just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way The Dark Knight Rises does, and it doesn’t play off a common turn of phrase like Die Hard With a Vengeance. Also, so, I mean, does this mean the stars themselves are trekking into a menacing inky gloom?

And yet by far the biggest words on this poster are “Into Darkness” — from a distance, you can barely even make out the words “Star Trek.” They are committed to making this title happen, people. Don’t try to fight it.

NEXT PAGE: We’ve got the darkness; but where are the stars?

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Image Credit: Paramount[/caption]

4. This ain’t your pappy’s Star Trek. Noticing anything else unusual about this image? Like how it’s not in space? A unexpected amount of Abrams’ first Star Trek took place on Earth, but Trek is fundamentally a sci-fi saga set on starships warping through the vast reaches of outer space — not a disaster tale located on terra firma. This poster could be Abrams’ sly way of expanding the audience for his film, pulling in people for whom the words “starship” and “warping” and “vast reaches of outer space” remain a major buzzkill — whereas devastating one of the greatest cities on our planet makes the drama’s stakes feel more, well, earthbound.

Speaking of devastation, I’m also struck by how grim this image is. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of our future was one of basic harmony and understanding, where we’d renounced petty jealousy, greed, and bloody war in the service of bettering ourselves. That is not the future I see in this poster — nor is it the one presented in the film’s official synopsis released last week that suggests the wreckage in this poster was caused by domestic terrorism. In 2009, Abrams and his collaborators proved that they could update Trek for 21st century audiences without losing the innate qualities that have made Trek one of the most durable and celebrated storytelling universes of the last 50 years. I have no reason to believe they won’t do so again, but from what we’ve seen so far, they also seem willing to boldly go where no Trek has gone before.

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Read more:

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ poster: Starfleet in shambles?

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ to debut first nine minutes in IMAX sneak preview

J.J. Abrams screens clip from ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’…with a catch — VIDEO

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