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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #15-16 – Mirrored (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.

The mirror universe is a fun concept.

Over the run of the franchise, quite divorced from the context of Mirror, Mirror, the mirror universe itself is an excuse to go big; to indulge in hammy and silly behaviour. There’s no need to worry about putting the toys back in the box, or even the general philosophy of the franchise as a whole. Appropriately enough, it becomes a place where you can do almost anything you might imagine with no real consequences. Writers get to do big space opera stuff, actors get to munch on the scenery.

All hail the empire...

All hail the empire…

There is a reason that the most giddy and indulgent fan service from the already giddy and fan-service-filled fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise was the two-parter set in the mirror universe. Indeed, Mirrored arguably borrows more from In a Mirror, Darkly than it does from Mirror, Mirror. The entire two-part story is launched from a casual conjectural conversation between Scotty and McCoy – suggesting that this might just be some flight of fancy. Indeed, the story cuts to the mirror universe as Scotty asks McCoy about “the worst timeline [he] can imagine.”

Mirrored is a very silly, very disposable story. It combines the weird fascination with alternate universes that runs through IDW’s monthly Star Trek series with the fixation on the events of JJ Abrams’ franchise-launching reboot. The result does not rank with the best mirror universe stories ever told, feeling too indulgent for its own good.

A cutting retort...

A cutting retort…

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mirrored is how little it actually borrows from Mirror, Mirror. The issue’s title page cites Jerome Bixby’s teleplay as an inspiration, but Mike Johnson’s script owes a lot more to In a Mirror, Darkly in terms of plot and tone. Mirrored plays out as a slightly remixed version of that particular Star Trek episode, albeit substituting the reboot cast and crew in place of the Enterprise ensemble. The set-up, the plot beats, the character arcs; it all feels like it owes a clear debt to In a Mirror, Darkly.

mirror!Kirk seems to have the same anger and insecurity issues that mirror!Archer displayed, although perhaps his resentment of the Vulcans more reflects the regular universe’s version of Jonathan Archer. Nevertheless, mirror!Kirk is a rebellious young upstart who finds himself in control of a piece of the regular universe that has somehow fallen back into the past of the mirror universe. Using this advanced technology, mirror!Kirk quickly plots his ascent to the imperial throne, threatening his superiors.

Don't destroy the one called Kirk...

Don’t destroy the one called Kirk…

“You don’t get it, do you, Pike?” our young protagonist goads. “From now on… I am the Imperium.” While the version of mirror!Kirk featured in Mirror, Mirror did use the Tantalus Field to enforce his will and assist his ascent, this version of the character feels more in line with mirror!Archer. Using the same approach as mirror!Archer, mirror!Kirk stages a mutiny among the crew of the Enterprise in pursuit of power. When his former superior refuses to yield, mirror!Archer uses his advanced future ship to destroy the Enterprise.

However, there are similarities even beyond the characterisation of mirror!Kirk. Most obviously, the adventure doesn’t feature any overlap with the regular characters – a feature unique to In a Mirror, Darkly as far as televised episodes go. The story also ends with the female communications officer betraying her superior and laying her own claim on the advanced future technology. “Now, time to set a course back to Earth,” suggests mirror!Uhura, “and show them what the future looks like.” Forget Empress Hoshi Sato, we may be looking at Empress Nyoto Uhura.

A commanding presence...

A commanding presence…

To be fair, this makes a great deal of sense. There is an argument to be made that In a Mirror, Darkly is the second or third most beloved of Star Trek‘s mirror universe stories; only behind Mirror, Mirror and possibly Crossover. Packed full of continuity references and in-jokes, In a Mirror, Darkly allowed the cast and crew of Enterprise to build recreations of famous Star Trek sets and to indulge in some decidedly fannish nostalgia as cancellation loomed. It is easy to see why the episode was made, and why fans tend to love the episode.

Under Mike Johnson’s pen, the on-going Star Trek series has the same sort of fannish nostalgia. There is something very nerdy and very in-jokey about Scotty referring to the Leonard Nimoy version of Spock as “Old Spock” – it sounds like the type of language used on an internet forum. In fact, Mirrored seems to position itself as the ultimate “what if” story, mashing up various story elements from the history of Star Trek into a story that consists of banging the toys together with feverish enthusiasm.

"You have been, and always shall be, a potential rival."

“You have been, and always shall be, a potential rival.”

That says, the series did suffer in its first year from the fact that it only really had one piece of continuity to draw from for historical context or characterisation. The biggest event in the history of this version of the Star Trek universe was the only story set in this version of the Star Trek universe. So any reference to the new Star Trek canon inevitably had to reference JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek film. As a result, it seems like every few story must work in a cameo or a reference or a flashback to Nero.

The Red Shirt’s Tale had featured a half-page flashback to Kirk’s defeat of Nero. Here, we get a few pages devoted to mirror!Kirk murdering mirror!Nero with his own hands. Nero worked well enough in the context of i, where JJ Abrams needed a generic villain against whom the crew might define themselves. Nero works better than Klaa or Shinzon, but he is not the most memorable or distinctive bad guy in the Star Trek canon. Indeed, the cameo from mirror!Gorkon was just as gratuitous, but felt more earned.

Not a patch on his counterpart...

Not a patch on his counterpart…

In a way, Mirrored almost seems critical of the rebooted Star Trek movie. After all, the story parallels the feature film quite closely with a number of slight observations. In Mirrored, mirror!Kirk kills mirror!Nero in cold blood to avange his father. In the feature film, Kirk offered to help Nero; when Nero refused, Kirk responded by emptying the Enterprise’s phasers and torpedoes into the dying ship. It seems a great deal more aggressive and premeditated than the “… but I don’t have to save you” sentiment from Batman Begins.

In fact, mirror!Kirk seems to allude to this in his murder of mirror!Nero. As he grapple with the Romulan, he boasts, “But unlike you, I’m not going to use fancy torpedoes… while I sit safely inside my ship. No phasers, no blades. No, for you… I’m just gonna use my bare hands.” There is a sense that perhaps mirror!Kirk’s murder of mirror!Nero is more honest than the destruction of Nero’s ship at the climax of Star Trek. At least mirror!Kirk was willing to get his hands dirty while committing the act.

"mirror!Khan is much more fun!"

“mirror!Khan is much more fun!”

Similarly, mirror!Kirk fails to destroy Vulcan. Despite the fact that this universe is revealed as “the worst timeline you can imagine”, it is still a timeline where Vulcan survives. In fact, despite the brutality on display here, the rampage of the Nerada claims fewer lives in the mirror universe than it did in the alternate timeline created by the reboot. Along with the honesty of mirror!Kirk’s murder of mirror!Nero, it seems like Mirrored is engaging in none-too-subtle criticism of some of the plot points and decisions made over the course of the reboot.

There is also some nice foreshadowing thrown in. Reflecting the general tone of the comics leading towards Star Trek Into Darkness, there is a sense of looming conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. The first splash page of the mirror universe features mirror!Spock standing over a devastated Klingon homeworld, a nice way of reinforcing the sense that the balance of power is precarious in the regular continuity. Using the mirror universe to portray the consequences of a war between Earth and Qo’nos is a clever thematic point.

Two Spocks for the price of one...

Two Spocks for the price of one…

That said, it is strange how fixated the on-going monthly Star Trek series is with alternate universes and parallel selves. Mirrored is the first example of such as story, but Parallel Lives featured the crew encountering gender-swapped doppelgangers and The Q Gambit featured the cast thrown into an alternate version of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The idea of alternates and parallels seems to run through the monthly comic book series. Perhaps, like Nero, it is an example of the comic book series simply trying to work with what it has.

Mirrored is not a great piece of Star Trek. It does not measure up to other mirror universe tie-in stories like The Mirror Universe Saga or Dark Mirror. At the same time, it is not a bad Star Trek comic. It is solid, diverting, entertaining in places. It is perhaps too indulgent to be completely satisfying, but it serves the function of a latter-day mirror universe story. It is a diversion that affords an opportunity to smash up all the toys.

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

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