It’s good to be bad.
I mean, it’s so easy to explore other character arcs and variations and this is because comics are an incredibly versatile storytelling medium. Exemplary Star Trek writers, Scott & David Tipton reunite with painter extraordinaire J.K. Woodward to deliver what will surely prove to be one of their greatest collaborative efforts.
There’s been a great deal of hype over the much-anticipated release of Star Trek: The Next Generation – Mirror Broken #0 this last Free Comic Book Day – and it is well-deserved as we look at this revisit to a well-loved storyline that is a true fan-favourite.
The Mirror Universe is a story that originally saw light with the Jerome Bixby original series episode “Mirror, Mirror” in 1968, and was probably one of the most popularized renditions of a science fiction story to feature this concept at the time. While the storyline was picked up again in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and then in Star Trek: Enterprise about thirty-five years later, it really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention outside of those two shows; it was a bit of an abandoned storyline during the seven years of the Next Generation – aside from Diane Duane’s non-canon novel Dark Mirror.
Of course, that’s where Mirror Broken now comes in. With the flexibility that comic storytelling offers, now that oversight can be rectified and we can return to TNG to visit the crew of the Enterprise-D… or their twisted doppelgangers, that is, and see what the alternate universe looks like in this iteration of Star Trek.
In this introduction to the six-issue mini-series, we find ourselves in the engineering section of the dilapidated ISS Stargazer with none other than Lieutenant Reginald Barclay. But this is not the timid and paranoiac Barclay that we know from the prime universe; no, this Barclay is a schemer and quick to pounce on an opportunity to further his career.
The Stargazer is a rusting hulk of a ship past its prime. It is forced into duty in order to protect the shrinking Terran Empire core planets. On solar system patrol, Barclay muses that the weakness and indecision of the Spock-era reforms are to blame for the Empire’s current condition and he sees only the need to secure his position against the inevitable collapse that is about to come. From him, we can determine that this is a dominant way of thinking in the Terran Empire.
That’s in the first three pages.
The Tiptons deftly bring their readers up to speed in an incredibly short amount of time. They re-familiarize them with the state of the Terran Empire and introduce us back to this universe with considerable ease. Their experience with other Star Trek titles from IDW notwithstanding, it’s clear that this not just simply another story assignment but one that is told with the idea that this is a labour of love. The Tiptons have a love for this franchise, and this respect comes out in the intricate nuances of the dialogue and internal monologues. They reveal the innermost changes of these characters in a fascinating way.
For example, the dialogue between Barclay and Picard on page four presents a vastly different, yet thoroughly entertaining Picard than what we are used to in the regular universe. Rather than the discrete yet assertive Picard, we meet one whose conversation is laced with an insinuating and ascorbic humour that masks a cold and calculating member of the patrician class of humanity. This Picard reeks of corrupt aristocracy and his speech is that of a man used to getting his own way.
J.K. Woodward’s stunning artistry perfectly captures this corruption with his skill in painting likenesses, facial expressions and body language. He paints Barclay with the aspect of a beaten dog; hungry for any opportunity that comes his way. Picard is the model of privilege gained illicitly; in peak physical condition and with a constant look of amusement and condescension on his face. Data is a renegade machine driven to obtaining perfection through any means possible – even through the use of Borg technology.
(Be sure to check out our Mirror Broken interview with Woodward, if you missed it!)
However, the jewel of his Mirror Universe characterization in this book has to be the new version of Deanna Troi. Clearly less than an officer and more of Picard’s creature, Troi is a true femme fatale who uses her sexuality — as well as her empathic powers –in service of her captain. In only two pages, we see her as a real threat who promises subtlety and manipulation as her deadliest weapons. Out of all the newly realized characters in the alternate universe, she is the one that presents the most danger on board the Stargazer.
Of course, being on board the Stargazer is the biggest question teased by this introduction. Obviously, this is the primer for some action that is about to come that will see Picard in control of the ship that fans have associated with him, the Enterprise-D, or this universe’s variant. But there are other questions too: what of La Forge? Where is Riker? The concept art that is included with this issue also opens up additional questions, particularly the mind-blowing portrayal of Doctor Crusher and her apparently sadistic son, Wesley. The image of Picard in personal combat with Riker is also tantalizing and my fear is that six issues will not be enough to adequately explore all of the aspects of the mirror universe.
Still, being able to re-explore this universe through the TNG perspective is a wonderful freedom made possible through the flexibility of this medium of storytelling. I’m confident that wherever the talented combination of Tipton and Woodward take us will be to a place of great entertainment and respectful of the franchise. After all, we’re only about twelve pages of storytelling in and we’ve just scratched the surface.
I’m looking forward to re-visiting this storyline and I’m not going to feel bad about it.
Well… maybe just a little.