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Star Trek – Mirror Images (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.

There has always been something rather strange about IDW’s Star Trek publishing line. How does the company decide what ideas got to print? What indicators do they look at in order to determine that one concept is worth exploration, but another is not? Basing the monthly on-going comic series around JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek universe makes a great deal of sense, as does commissioning D.C. Fontana to write Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment. However, there is a sense that a lot of their output comes from throwing darts at boards.

For example, comics based on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have been confined to miniseries or arcs of the on-going monthly series; this seems odd, given that the market buying comics books would have been at the perfect age to feel nostalgia for them. However, miniseries like Intelligence Gathering or Assimilation2 are given as much prominence as strange alternate universe stories as The Last Generation or Mirror Images.

Pained leadership...

Pained leadership…

It isn’t that The Last Generation or Mirror Images aren’t interesting, at least on paper. While the execution in both cases might leave a little to be desired, there are interesting stories to be told in the classic “what if…” comic book style. However, it is hard to believe that there is as much demand for the four-issue story of mirror!Kirk taking command of the I.S.S. Enterprise and killing mirror!Pike as there is to see Data or Odo or Picard again. Given the success that IDW has enjoyed resurrecting The X-Files, it would seem nineties nostalgia is out there.

There is an argument to be made that the classic crew is currently more popular and iconic than any of the spin-offs, largely thanks to the recent cinematic reboot. However, is there really so much demand for a story based around Christopher Pike that four issues of mirror!Pike scheming demand to published?

Only logical...

Only logical…

To be clear, there is an interesting story to be told here. After all, Margaret Wander Bonanno had offered her own version of the ascent of mirror!Kirk in The Greater Good – a short story collected in the Shards and Shadows anthology. However, just because one version of this story has been told, it does not follow that any other version must be inherently inferior. Given what we know of Kirk, it might be interesting to spend some time with his mirror universe counterpart. We saw very little of mirror!Kirk in Mirror, Mirror after all.

However, stretching the story out to four issues of a five-issue miniseries seems a bit much. After all, mirror!Pike’s death is a foregone conclusion; it seems like mirror!Kirk and mirror!Pike spend four issues ineffectively trying to murder each other. There is no sense of climbing stakes or encroaching panic. There is no noose tightening around either party’s neck. Both mirror!Kirk and mirror!Pike spend the four issues engaged in attempted assassination as a simple order of business; nothing really happens until half-way through the final issue.

Enemy at the gate...

Enemy at the gate…

The ending is a foregone conclusion, so there is a limited amount of suspense to be wrung from these events. There are clever ways to build a story like this around its preordained outcome, but Mirror Images does not do that. At the end of the story, mirror!Kirk realises that his own officers will eventually try to assassinate him like he assassinated mirror!Pike. However, this is not a revelation; this should be something that mirror!Kirk takes for granted even before he considers laying claim to the I.S.S. Enterprise.

Given the philosophy of the mirror universe, one suspects that even officers beyond the captain have to worry about ambitious subordinates, so it seems strange that the threat would only occur to mirror!Kirk now. It feels like the series wastes four of its five issues getting nowhere. This problem is compounded by little out-of-character touches. Would mirror!Kirk trust mirror!Scotty to install the Tantalus Field and leave him alive? Would mirror!Kirk forgive mirror!McCoy for a betrayal, even under torture?

Civil blood makes civil hands unclean...

Civil blood makes civil hands unclean…

There does not seem to be any character insight here. What do we learn from mirror!Kirk? How does mirror!Pike offer a commentary or insight on his mainstream counterpart? All the strongest mirror universe characters – mirror!Spock, mirror!Sisko, the Intendant, Smiley, mirror!Archer – tell us something insightful or interesting about their other selves, whether by contrast or by comparison. However, mirror!Pike feels like a stock corrupt authority figure, with no real relationship to the melancholic glimpsed in The Cage.

To be fair to the series, the most interesting character touch comes in the last few pages, when it is revealed that mirror!Spock betrayed mirror!Pike to mirror!Kirk. It is not a surprise – after all, mirror!Spock is still alive by the time that Mirror, Mirror comes around – and one of the problems with Mirror Images is that the miniseries treats it as a big reveal. As such, it is relegated to the last few pages of the last issue. It could serve as a clever twist on Spock’s devotion to Pike in The Menagerie, but it is not developed enough to really measure up.

Doctor's orders...

Doctor’s orders…

These problems are compounded by the awkward fan service to be found here. Not only do we get the now-obligatory Sulu says “oh, my!” sequence, but we also get a bunch of scantily-clad Orion Slave Girls. The mirror universe is meant to be a sexy place, to be fair. However, we are also denied any females characters with any agency. mirror!Kirk kills mirror!Number One in a flashback panel, and conspires with every first season staff member except mirror!Uhura in his plot to kill mirror!Pike. mirror!Chapel is just a walking answering machine.

There is a sense that Mirror Images is aware of these problems, even if it never takes the necessary steps to fix them. The five-issue miniseries only devotes four issues to mirror!Kirk’s assassination of mirror!Pike, as if acknowledging that the concept can only be stretched so far. The middle issue of the five issues actually jumps forward in time for an “interlude” with mirror!Picard on-board the I.S.S. Starbreaker. There is no real context for the jump forward, no reason why it was needed half-way through the main story with mirror!Kirk.

Yes. George Takei says "oh, my." Oh, my.

Yes. George Takei says “oh, my.” Oh, my.

There is some thematic overlap. The story set on-board the I.S.S. Starbreaker also features the mirror counterpart of one series lead assuming his first command through assassination. However, it is a story that never really goes anywhere. It ends with mirror!Picard in command of his first ship, sailing off on his own mission; but it feels like the prelude to something else rather than a satisfying story in its own right. There is no reason to care about what happens, beyond the novelty of seeing mirror!Picard.

Which is, arguably, interesting of itself. Not only is this a (relatively) rare comic from IDW focusing outside the classic series, but it is also an (extremely) rare glimpse into the mirror universe of The Next Generation. As the mirror universe never appeared in that show it seems that most tie-ins are content to explore the mirror universe as developed on the original Star Trek or Deep Space Nine. The biggest exception – Diane Duane’s wonderful Dark Mirror – was actually published before Crossover aired.

Heavy lies the head...

Heavy lies the head…

In a way, this is a shame. After all, the world of The Next Generation is arguably the most wholesome and idealised vision of Star Trek that exists. Even as the later seasons pick at the idea a little bit, The Next Generation seems more willing at accept the idea of utopia than either the original Star Trek or Deep Space Nine. Jean-Luc Picard is probably the single most idealised human character in the history of the franchise, even allowing for minor flaws like his pride and his vanity as the later seasons did.

As such, there are interesting stories to be told about the mirror universe equivalents to those beloved characters – there is a much bigger gulf between the idealism of The Next Generation and the horror of the mirror universe. After all, the conditions on the mirror universe version of Terok Nor were not that different from the conditions through which Kira herself lived. The opening sequences of Mirror, Mirror had the Halkans warning Kirk that Starfleet and the Federation could still be perverted and eroded.

Caged beast...

Caged beast…

There is something interesting in seeing The Next Generation confront such a reality, in seeing Picard face off against a villainous version of himself. Episodes like Time Squared and Family suggested that Picard had a great deal of difficulty acknowledging a version of himself that might be anything other than a heroic idol. Having Picard confront his evil doppelganger would make for a fascinating character study. Instead, Mirror Images uses mirror!Picard in a throwaway issue that seems designed to stall.

Mirror Images is an odd little series. The execution is distinctly unsatisfying, but the basic idea is intriguing. However, it is hard to fathom devoting five issues to this idea when so much of the rest of the franchise lies fallow, awaiting exploration and reinvention.

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

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