Through a Mirror, Apocryphally – Star Trek: The Mirror Universe Saga
Star Trek comics have been around almost since the show’s earliest days on air, and while the first Gold Key books were nothing to write home about, over the years there have been a number of series and individual issues worthy of note. Indeed, the comics often offered enhanced opportunities for experimentation, for the Enterprise-centric narrative to boldly go places no television hour-long could. Something like The Modala Imperative, an adventure that spanned generations and reunited Spock and McCoy in the 24th century, would be impossible for live-action, and thus could only take place in book form.
Today we look and one of the more delightful comic runs that Trek ever had, one that came early on in DC’s first stab at an ongoing. Because who can resist the goateed so-good-to-be-bad doings of the Mirror Universe?
DC’s debut as the purveyor of comic book Trek lore was actually the third Trek continuing series — and the first artistic success. The Gold Key books glow with nostalgia concomitant with simple old-timeyness, but their plots are a bit clunky, and the art (apart from the sometimes quite nice painted covers) left something to be desired. And the Marvel go-around fell flat, and collapsed not all that long after serializing the Motion Picture adaptation. (It didn’t help that the then current costumes were the dreadful millennial death cult unis from that film, which were barf in cloth form. You can’t choose your window of opportunity.)
DC got their chance after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan set the cinematic benchmark, an auspicious bottle of champagne onto the hull if there ever was. Their license would extend on in to the 1990s, through the peak of Trek’s second-life popularity, into a new volume, and also branching into Next Generation books. Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran filled many of the artistic bylines on this maiden voyage, and their work had superb energy and did a much better job of capturing the familiar crew likenesses than that of predecessors. The comics were a great deal of fun, and like the animated series they could travel to more bizarre territory than the television show, and even movie special effects, ever could. This freedom wasn’t without pitfalls, though: like Marvel’s Star Wars comics, the film series, which was the canonical bedrock, was still continuing apace, and hence wreaking havoc with any attempts to forge a continuing story thread consistent with silver screen developments. Just when the Trek comic really got rolling with a storyline, a new movie would come out and wipe it all away like a wet cloth over a chalkboard, forcing a lot of editorial room scrambling.
This was what happened when Star Trek III: The Search for Spock immediately resurrected a dead star, and suddenly that lovable Vulcan was back in the picture. The Trek creative team had to go back to that clean drawing board — and they shrugged their shoulders, asked Why not?, and went whole hog. What the hell, you know? Enter the Mirror Universe:
The resulting plot, scripted by Mike Barr and unfolding from issues 9-16, has a number of wonderful twists: How the two different Kirks deal with Carol Marcus over David. A reprise of the Reliant/Enterprise “playing possum” gambit, this time with the roles reversed. A massive invasion of the universe-proper by the Empire, confronted by a hodgepodge alliance of the Federation, Klingons and Romulans (reminiscent of the Deep Space Nine Dominion War), complete with backstabbings and triple-crosses aplenty. Agony booths. Marlena, the captain’s woman. Bellies.
The true dream fulfillment comes as the two full crews meet and trade barbs — with a special guest appearance by that swagger stick carrying prig, Captain Styles of the Excelsior. Evil McCoy!:
Fear not, Spock and Mirror-Spock finally meet, and have a mind-meld brawl to end it all. (Spock is back on Vulcan in his white bathrobe, still recovering from having his katra wedged back into his skull — he doesn’t go along on the Bird-of-Prey when his crewmates leave to face the music. And Mirror-Spock apparently just said “meh” when it came to reforming the Empire from within.) This gives us an opportunity to view some of Mirror-Spock’s background in a delicious two-page spread — I can recall as a kid being quite terrified by him gassing the little alien in the glass jar(!):
That’s cold, man. Spock Mengele.
The story goes everywhere, from invasions to the rebellious underground of the Mirror reality, where a dead character’s counterpart is still alive and kicking and struggling against the oppressive overlords. It’s on this latter sojourn that we get some of the pre-history of the Mirror Universe, which was superseded years later on Enterprise, when Zefram Cochrane zapped the friendly Vulcans:
So, just to make this clear: what you see above is an alternate history of the Mirror Universe, which was itself a skewed version of a fictional reality. We aren’t in exploding heads Scanners territory, but we’re traipsing close to the border.
You’re swimming in apocrypha when you read these old DC books. The innumerable novels that were also published in this period at least had the advantage of filling in gaps between episodes and established films, and weren’t trying to keep pace with the twists and turns of Paramount’s output. But that’s what makes the comics so much fun to revisit: their unpredictability, their non-corporate non-sameness, their struggle to reconcile what they’ve built with what the movies laid on top of them. By the end of this arc, Enterprise-stealing Kirk is rehabilitated — having saved the Earth not from a whale-seeking space log, but his evil twin — and is given command of the Excelsior, while a recovered Spock is given command of the Surak, a science vessel, thus spinning crews in two different directions and doubling the plot potentialities. At least until The Voyage Home came out.
It’s like a long series of Star Trek What If? comics, with all the attendant joys — and continuity headaches.
Perhaps the highest compliment one can give to The Mirror Universe Saga is that it plays better than any of the Mirror sojourns taken on Deep Space Nine or Enterprise. It’s not perfect, and not a storytelling masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s different. That matters a lot, and thus it remains one of the better Trek comic reads of yore. It’s been reprinted in trades a number of times and hence is easy to track down. If you’re even a casual fan of Trek lore, it’s worth a glance.