(N. B.: posted on behalf of John K. Kirk.)
The alternate universe is a story trope that doesn’t get enough attention in Star Trek fiction – well, in my opinion, at least. Probably too cliché by modern standards, but folks have to remember that it was Star Trek that popularized the notion. When Jerome Bixby’s “Mirror, Mirror” aired in 1967, it certainly wasn’t the first time the idea of an alternate dimension was introduced in sci-fi literature, but this was the show that definitely popularized it and to this day, remains one of the most memorable Star Trek episodes of all time. IDW Publishing’s Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #0 has made this storyline even more memorable.
It’s been re-visited only a few times. A couple of times in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and in Star Trek: Enterprise to my recollection, but it’s always bothered me that the writers of The Next Generation never picked up this historically integral plotline. I mean, this is about as Trek as you can get.
IDW Comics, exercising its Star Trek license to the fullest, is taking up the challenge and investigating this exciting storyline. It’s a chance to see how our favourite TNG characters would have developed in an alternate history. Imagine if the negative aspect of humanity’s history had triumphed and try to envision the dystopic version of Gene Roddenberry’s future.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Mirror Broken, expertly written by David and Scott Tipton and wonderfully illustrated by the amazingly talented J.K. Woodward, is the latest Trek mini-series from IDW that brings us back to that alternate universe of corruption. Humanity is despicably vice-ridden as the Terran Empire experiences its collapse and continued slow decline into galactic obscurity.
There’s a healthy degree of respect for historical subtext and order in this issue. The Tiptons cleverly give the reader a clear indication of the Empire’s power at this time. Following everyone’s favourite Star Fleet hypochondriac, Lt. Barclay, we see the TNG cast on board the ISS Stargazer, an aging ship on Solar System patrol, forced into service to maintain the Empire’s core borders. In his meanderings, Barclay tells the reader of the sorry state of affairs of the Empire after the era of “Spock’s weak-willed era of reform”. With a few choicely selected words, the Tipton brothers quickly get the reader up to historical speed and inform us that the Empire is hard-pressed by the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance and verging on implosion.
It’s the vices in our favourite characters that fans look for in the warping of a beloved story – no pun intended. We want to see the changes and the innovative ways that these characters can be expressed in new and entertaining ways. But the entertainment value in this book is not to be found in the simple reversal of character traits and values; oh no, the challenge in writing this storyline is far more complicated than that.
You see, the joy in reading this is to see how the characters have been repurposed rather than merely reversed. In the prime Trek universe, Reg Barclay is timid and reactive. In this story, he is bold, to be sure, but he is also still a reactive individual capable of seizing an opportunity when it presents itself, yet not foresighted enough to enact a cunning plan by himself. It takes a great degree of familiarity and love of the franchise as well as a powerful imagination to modify an existing character like this. The Mirror Universe characters are not just simple opposites – they are deliberately modified to gain a new appreciation of them. While Barclay is still the same character we know from Next Generation, we get to enjoy him in a new way.
The visual modifications are also a delight to behold. When talking with J.K. Woodward about these characters back in March in Toronto, he related to me the careful and great appreciation he had for the deliberate choices in the characters’ re-imaging. Deanna Troi, for example, is still able to discern another’s intentions and emotional status, but instead of using her gifts for understanding and healing, they are at the despicable beck and call of her captain to further his – and her – careers. Like her counterpart, she too wears a non-standard outfit. However, her uniform is clearly reflective of a manipulative nature. She is an emotional predator and her choice of wear gives her the appearance of a sleek huntress, alert to the slightest empathic signal and to pounce when her master commands. In my mind, Troi is probably the most striking of characters in this comic and is a brilliant example of its dramatic severance with the Next Generation we all know and love. She is darkly beautiful.
Woodward is a master painter. His stunning use of colour and amazing accuracy with likenesses makes him a natural choice for this book. The skill level in this book is simply astounding and is what’s needed to make a major impact on the Star Trek fan base. His proficiency with detail with the brush is certainly one that makes his art stand out. Likenesses are not a source of insecurity for him and they are respectfully and lovingly portrayed in this book which adds to its veracity and enjoyment. Of course, with the level of recognition this artist is gaining in the Trek community, he clearly is a top-tier artist for IDW to draft for a high-profile project like this.
The evil humour that alternate Picard displays is a true manifestation of the type of character we could expect from this variation on the franchise. Picard is a gifted strategist and leader, while Mirror Picard is gifted at personal advancement and self-servience. His leadership reveals itself when he is prepared to expend followers for his own benefit. The Tiptons have deliciously twisted these characters into sinister variations that make this book not only a pleasure to read, but to discover.
The question appears at this point: who is left to discover? If you have seen some of Woodward’s conceptual art in the back of this issue, it really lends itself to tantalizing readers to pick up the subsequent issues #1 to #6 with the promise of further warped characters like young Wesley Crusher, his mother, and other staple characters will undoubtedly invoke the expected hardcover edition to also grace my office bookshelves.
Not only have the Tiptons and Woodward given us a vibrant and dramatic variation on Star Trek, but they have made this storyline even more dynamic and have reminded us of the innovative stories that Star Trek is known for. In fact, this is the type of stuff that befits the level of storytelling Star Trek is known for but also pays homage to its legacy in the manner that only loyal fans can do so. As fans, we are lucky to have such talented creators who love this franchise as much as we do.
With legacies in mind, if you are a devoted Star Trek fan and love comics, then this is a series that you need to have in your collection. Presented by some of the finest comic talent and who truly know Trek themselves, then you are in good company. In fact, Jerome Bixby would probably love reading this and seeing what his own story has wrought.
Now that’s memorable.
John K. Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name “J. Kirk,” it’s hard for him to not inject “Star Trek” into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources. He also blogs at Pop Mythology and TrekCore.
Featured image courtesy of StarTrek.com.
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