Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Line In The '60's, A Whole Book Today: Star Trek: Mirror Images Disappoints.

The Good: Interesting (mostly) story, Interesting character twists
The Bad: Terrible artwork, Less realistic dialogue, Picard one-shot
The Basics: A good idea with mediocre execution, Star Trek Mirror Images explores how Kirk came to power on the I.S.S. Enterprise with horrible artwork.

The greatest asset in Star Trek - in universe - is Spock Prime. The greatest asset to Star Trek, the franchise, is new blood which has the ability to be creative and clever and take established Star Trek and do clever things with it. Following the events of the new film Star Trek, there will be an inevitable sequel and unless it is a Next Generation era film, it has to be in the Star Trek Beta (as I'm calling it) universe. The Beta universe has Vulcans on the verge of extinction, two Spocks, one of whom knows where the greatest disasters of the age will come and how to stop them. The next movie could be perfect if it has something like the crew of the Enterprise, after preventing the slaughter of all of the planets leading up to Deneva, is headed to stop the Doomsday Machine as it enters our galaxy - but before it begins destroying planets - when Spock, unfortunately, begins pon farr. While it might seem like a simple problem, given that he and Uhura are an item, to solve, the fact that Vulcans need to return to Vulcan to spawn creates a real dilemma which puts Kirk's new loyalty to Spock against his duty to save billions of lives by deactivating the greatest weapon in the galaxy before it becomes active.

See? Right there: creativity, a respect for canon, a decent idea, something that can make a larger character statement and make for a movie that balances character and effects well (I could have the script done by next week!), it's everything a Star Trek fan might want and it has broadbased appeal to retain the new fans that have fallen for the new film and the Beta universe. The thing those new fans are not likely to realize is that Star Trek had a Beta universe already, the Mirror Universe from the episode "Mirror, Mirror" (click here for my review of that episode!). In the comic books for Star Trek, there is a similar level of creativity, but unfortunately, the ideas have been out there for decades and the executions are not so great. In the case of Star Trek Mirror Images, a single line from "Mirror, Mirror," which indicates that Kirk rose to power by killing Captain Pike and taking the Enterprise, spawned a four-issue mini-series, which is now available (with its fifth part, a divergent story) in trade paperback anthology (more commonly, but less accurately, called a graphic novel) form as Star Trek Mirror Images. This is a good concept that has its moments, but the moments are robbed by the artwork, which is poor at its best and often distracting for its lack of quality.

For those who do not understand the basic premise, in "Mirror, Mirror," Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, and Uhura found themselves in a parallel universe where essentially everyone is evil. The Federation is actually the Empire and Kirk executes the will of a corrupt, power-hungry Empire bent on galactic domination. Star Trek Mirror Images looks at Kirk's ascendancy to the captaincy as he develops plots to take the Enterprise from Captain Pike.

Having risen to the rank of First Officer on the Imperial flagship, the I.S.S. Enterprise, Commander James Tiberius Kirk sets his sights on the captain's chair. Captain Pike, though, has the support of most key members of the crew, including science officer Spock. As Pike thwarts the first overt attempts by Kirk to take the ship, which leaves Kirk in the agony booth for his insolence, he begins to develop relationships with the few people on the ship who bear a grudge against Pike, most notably Dr. McCoy. Kirk also makes an ally in Marlena Moreau, who seems content to have Kirk come out ahead.

After a detour (a Next Generation episode evaluated below), Pike sends Kirk on a mission that seems like it will be the end of both their problems. But while executing Pike's will, Kirk comes across a device that assures him victory and he returns to the Enterprise with his best chance yet of ousting the Captain!

Fans of Star Trek will not be surprised by how this story goes for one simple reason; "Mirror, Mirror" has Kirk in power in large part because of a technological device that gives him incredible power. Star Trek Mirror Images begins with Kirk not having that device and as a result, it seems to make sense that part of the story will be how Kirk comes upon it and, lo and behold!, it is. This is a necessary evil that writers Scott and David Tipton are forced to deal with and they at least make a fair run of it as by the time it comes into the story, many readers (who know the concept) will have forgotten that Kirk has the Tantalus Field and be wondering how Kirk could possibly take the ship from someone so clever as Pike.

The Star Trek Mirror Universe is hardly a fallow place, creatively. There have been multiple books written about the Mirror Universe and the Star Trek comics had an amazing storyline in the 1980s (between films three and four) involving a war between the Star Trek and Mirror universes. It was cool and clever and despite the clunky artwork was fun to follow.  There were novels published by Pocket Books and all of the non-canon sources took a real kick to the pants when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returned to the Mirror Universe with "Crossover." Still, after the adventures that detailed the new state of the Mirror Universe, others continued to write in the Mirror Universe, including William Shatner in his novel Dark Victory. So, authors Scott and David Tipton are hardly working in an area that others have not dabbled in excessively.

But what the Tiptons do remarkably well is tell a fresh story that no one else has bothered to explore. The result is an often tense conspiracy tale where everyone seems to have their own political machinations. The plot is actually one of the most solid Mirror Universe stories because it happens before the "Mirror, Mirror" crossover. The Tiptons do a pretty great job of creating characters who are viable and motivated by a strong sense of what their universe is about. The values of the Mirror Universe are very well-presented here.

There is a side trip, as well, in the midpoint of this trade paperback, which has the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance attacking the shrinking Empire. On the frontier, Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard is aboard the I.S.S. Starbreaker when it is attacked. Pursued by the enemy, Picard takes control of the bridge and must rescue the Starbreaker and its crew so they may live to fight another day. As the ship is damaged more and more by the enemy onslaught, Picard must innovate to keep his crew alive.

Where the Tiptons fall down is with the dialogue. In addition to the Picard story coming at a moment where it is inopportune for the story, it is a pointless divergence. While Kirk's rise to power, the demise of the alternate universe Picard is hardly an essential story fans have been clamoring for. The Tiptons have pretty free license with this storyline and none of the characters sound right. With the main bits of Star Trek Mirror Images, they get it about half right. Spock and Kirk sound right, with peripheral characters being less well-defined.

The crux of the problem here is in Captain Pike. Pike was characterized in Star Trek (the original series, not the new film) as a contemplative, moody character. Here he is much more active and angry and while that might fit given how cool he was in "The Cage," it still does not read right here. Instead, much of the dialogue is written as if this were a comic book, which (again) it is. But there is a difference between something being in the comic book medium and seeming like a comic. The best works derived from source material in other mediums mimics that more closely without the limitations of things like a television budget. Star Trek Mirror Images has the characters speaking in a lower diction than the crews originally did and characters like McCoy lack a character element that illustrate a real twist on the original character. As a result, Star Trek: Mirror Images is stronger as a concept and in the plot than it is as the characters interact and "speak."

But the real problem with Star Trek: Mirror Images is the artwork. David Messina does the artwork of all five issues in this volume and he quickly becomes tired. The panels look more like Manga artwork and the sense of movement in them is terrible. Characters like Kirk and Pike have little differentiation and the book looks sloppy. This is the detraction that is significant enough to suck this book down into "below average" territory because it fails to use the medium well.

Only the die-hard Trek fans will enjoy this and even they will be disappointed by the artwork, especially at this price.

For other Star Trek trade paperback anthologies and movie-related graphic novels, please check out:
Assignment: Earth
The Best Of Star Trek Volume 3 - The Best Of Gary Seven
The A-Team: War Stories


For other book reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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