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Star Trek – New Visions #1: The Mirror, Cracked (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is interesting the ideas that wind up becoming the focal points for fans and tie-in fiction.

For example, there is a wealth of tie-in material based around individual episodes of the Star Trek franchise. Despite the fact that Gary Seven only appeared in Assignment: Earth, the character has inspired tie-in novels and comic books about his exploits from a wealth of different writers. Similarly, the history of Khan Noonien Singh has been thorough explored (and re-explored) in various novels and comic books as well, despite the fact that he only appeared in one episode of the classic television show and one of the theatrical films – his popularity grew to the point where he reappeared in the rebooted series.

Boom, boom, boom, shake the bridge!

Boom, boom, boom, shake the bridge!

There is a lot of fixation on the perceived “missing” adventures from Kirk’s five-year mission, a revisionism that occasionally seems intended to downplay the two seasons of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Michael Jan Friedman wrote a series of novels exploring Captain Picard’s tenure commanding the Stargazer. There is a wealth of material filling the gaps between The Turnabout Intruder and Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and from there to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

In contrast, there is less material filling the gap between the opening sequences of Star Trek: Generations and Encounter at Farpoint; particularly if you exclude material focusing on Captain Sulu or Captain Picard. The Lost Era novel series was short-lived, and the comics have little interest in it. Similarly, the tie-in novels may have expanded continuity past Endgame, but there is an incredible “safeness” to it all. Sure, Deep Space Nine might be destroyed; but it will be rebuilt with most of the same craft. Voyager may be home, but it’ll be sent out again. Janeway may die, but she’ll be back.

A transporter, darkly...

A transporter, darkly…

As such, it is fascinating how much energy and attention has been devoted to Mirror, Mirror. The episode has generated countless tie-ins and spin-offs and sequels. Some of these stories attempt to fill the gap between Mirror, Mirror and Crossover; some just have fun with the ideas proposed in that second-season episode. There have been countless iterations and permutations built upon the ideas proposed in the episode. Indeed, the on-going Star Trek comic book series launched in the wake of Star Trek has even proposed a mirror universe version of the JJ Abrams movies.

It is easy to see the appeal of the mirror universe. It is a concept that takes familiar Star Trek iconography and twists it. It is an excuse for in-jokes and references; indeed, the very existence of the mirror universe is an in-joke itself. It is not just tie-in writers who seem to appreciate this aspect of the mirror universe. The later mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came to feel as indulgent as any alternate-universe fan-fiction, while In a Mirror Darkly is just a gigantic collection of Star Trek continuity and detail.

He's back!

He’s back!

Of course, the mirror universe also holds the allure of a giant get-out-of-jail free card. After all, this isn’t the world to which the audience returns the following week. As such, it is not confined by realism or expectations or the standard rules of Star Trek in particular or series storytelling in general. This can be seen in the performances featured in mirror universe episodes; William Shatner, Avery Brooks, Alexander Siddig and Scott Bakula can swing for the fences, because this is a rare opportunity. This can be seen in the writing; characters can be killed off, because the actors aren’t being paid to play them regularly.

As such, the mirror universe has a tendency to bring out the excess in Star Trek. It is – appropriately enough, given the characterisation of the Terran Empire – an excuse for hedonism and gratuity. These are fun in short bursts, but can quickly become tiresome. It seems like every story set in the mirror universe finds itself fighting the pull of those elements, threatening to collapse under the weight of its own indulgence. This is particularly apparent in tie-in fiction, which already has tendencies towards in-jokes and references.

To be fair, very little photoshopping was need for this sequence...

To be fair, very little photoshopping was need for this sequence…

So the mirror universe was either the best choice or the worst choice for the first issue of John Byrne’s New Visions photo-novels. The comics effectively slice together screenshots from old episodes in order to create new stories. From a technical standpoint, Byrne’s work is always solid – and occasionally spectacular. There is a definite art to his work here, and it is clear that New Visions is a fannish labour of love. However, it also sets the tone for the series. Not only are the visuals a mash-up of Star Trek episodes, but so is the plot.

The Mirror, Cracked seems to exist purely so Byrne can play with gloriously cartoonish Star Trek elements. Though Byrne mixes his visuals together well, it is the plot that feels clumsily slapped together – full of shout-outs and callbacks and references to various elements of the original series. Charlene Masters returns from The Alternative Factor, only to get incapacitated by another dimension-hopping lunatic. Similar teams up with mirror!Kirk, because… well, it is a comic book and we need a nice super-villain team-up from time to time.

"I have been, and always shall be... your friend's doppelganger."

“I have been, and always shall be… your friend’s doppelganger.”

Of course, Kor is not the ambiguously ruthless bloodthirsty yet honourable villain that we met in Errand of Mercy. Instead, Kor is characterised in the style of other more generically slimy Star Trek Klingons like Koloth or Kras or Krell. It is rather disconcerting, even if one remembers that John Byrne is only a fan of the original Star Trek series. Kor does not seem like what later shows would define as a Klingon, but he does not feel like John Collicos either; instead, he feels like the sort of generic villainous Klingons who appeared in episodes like Friday’s Child or A Private Little War.

Similarly, Byrne seems more interested in the trappings of the mirror universe than any internal logic. When mirror!Kirk beams over to the Klingon ship, he replicates his distinctive mirror universe uniform, because of course he does. Never mind that Byrne would have more choice of source images if mirror!Kirk kept the Starfleet uniform or changed into something else. Similarly, mirror!Spock shaves his goatee to infiltrate the Enterprise, but grows it back almost immediately. “How fast does facial hair grow in that other universe?” Kirk quips, before McCoy explains that he “applied a cellular growth accelerator.”

Bad to the Kor...

Bad to the Kor…

The Mirror, Cracked is an indulgent fannish mess. Somewhat ironically, given Byrne’s stated dislike of the spin-offs and sequels, The Mirror, Cracked feels like it has much more in common with later mirror universe episodes than it does with the original Mirror, Mirror.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of the classic Star Trek:

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