For writers, one of the most seductive ideas introduced in the 50+ year history of Star Trek is that of the Mirror Universe. It only originally featured in just one story of the classic series, but it ended up being revisited in the comics and books over the years, and – as the franchise grew – the Mirror Universe made appearances on our screens again in Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Discovery.
IDW went on to use this in their recent Mirrors And Smoke one-shot of Voyager, as well as a number of stories for The Next Generation, so the Mirror Universe has most certainly proved fertile ground for them. And who can blame them? As a concept, it has crossed over into popular culture in such a way that sporting a goatee is now common shorthand for being an evil doppelgänger (such as the ‘Darkest Timeline’ episodes of Community). Heck, there’s even a group called Spock’s Beard.
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It just happens to be one of those things that people know about without even necessarily having seen Star Trek, and has endured for over five decades now. With this latest one-shot, IDW takes us through a glass darkly once more, giving us a look at the Mirror Universe’s equivalent of something else from Star Trek which also happens to be well-known to the public at large: one Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically-engineered superhuman refugee from the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s, placed in suspended animation.
He was only ever intended to be a ‘villain of the week’ when he featured in the 1967 episode ‘Space Seed’; however, the decision to make him the focus of the first movie sequel in the series’ big screen continuation – Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan – helped to cement his place in the general public’s consciousness; no doubt his being indirectly responsible for the death of Mr. Spock played a part in this, as well as a truly memorable performance by Ricardo Montalban, which has rarely been equalled when it comes to the pantheon of Trek bad guys.
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Of course, this comic will not be the first time we have seen an alternative take on the character – 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness gave us a Khan from an alternative timeline, one where a Sikh hailing from Northern India could evidently be played by a white English public school posho. Mind you, in Khan’s first outing on TV, the Mexican Montalban had to be put through a process of ‘browning up’, in a way that would be considered problematic to modern audiences, and must have been felt to be an issue even 15 years later, as this was dispensed with for The Wrath Of Khan.
Both Khan and the Mirror Universe do seem to have a very particular and long-lasting fascination, so it does come as something of a surprise to learn the two have not crossed paths sooner. Veteran comics writer J. M. DeMatteis’ Star Trek: Hell’s Mirror gives us a look at how Khan’s drive for improving and bettering humanity through the use of his superior intellect fares when faced against an Empire that wishes to control and subjugate mankind, crushing traces wherever it finds them of freedom, independent thinking, individuality, or anything it deems a threat.
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Whereas Khan was seen as being something of a potential tyrant in the ‘Prime’ Star Trek timeline, here his ideology is in even starker contrast to that of the Terran Empire, which means he is positioned as a force for positive change in the Mirror Universe. DeMatteis’ masterstroke here is in making Khan into a far more sympathetic character, building upon what we know about him, and giving it a twist by pitting him directly against a force far more malevolent and dangerous, in the process setting him on a very different path to the one which we are familiar with.
Star Trek: Hell’s Mirror presents readers with a fascinating examination of the moral relativism between good and evil, giving a richer and more nuanced look at Khan, and fleshing him out in a truly unexpected way. Sometimes, it seems that a mirror crack’d can reveal far more than we might think. An excellent addition to the Star Trek mythology by IDW, and a definite triumph by DeMatteis.
Star Trek: Hell’s Mirror is out now from IDW Publishing.