In J.M. DeMatteis’ first work on the Star Trek franchise in nearly 40 years, a new corner of the Mirror Universe is explored: the rise of Khan Noonien Singh!
For a Star Trek fan, Hell’s Mirror is the very best kind of tie-in comic. It illuminates a side of the universe of which fans have only learned the barest details. It also accomplishes this by making the narrator a character that carries so much baggage in the mainline universe. Through Khan’s eyes, readers learn so much about the rise of the Terran Empire and how people tried to oppose it. It’s a compelling tactic for the story to take, and it feels almost like this could have been an episode or film from the original run of the series.
There are moments when it’s obvious that only a fraction of self-control separates the Khan of the main timeline and the one that inhabits the Mirror Universe. This attention to character carries through in DeMatteis’ dialogue, as well. In fact, the dialogue works to the point where one can almost hear the original actors reciting it.
The one drawback to setting a story in such a specific corner of the Star Trek multiverse is that it requires quite a bit of exposition to bring new readers up to speed. There’s a lot of background on the way that the Mirror Universe became so corrupted, as well as how Khan and his people fit into the story. However, there are just as many things that are left unexplained. Most of these puzzle pieces are things that are easily filled in by a reader who has a working knowledge of Star Trek canon. However, it makes for an occasionally uneven narrative.
Where Smith’s artwork really shines is in the more spacefaring sequences. Without spoiling anything, there’s a massive explosion of a particular starship about a third of the way through the issue that truly took me by surprise. Not only was it a shock in a narrative sense, but the way Smith renders the the explosion, breaking the ship down to its base parts in the vacuum of space, is a striking visual.
On the other hand, there are more than a few moments where the facial expressions of some of the characters seem a little muddled, like it’s unclear what angle they’re playing at a given moment. In particular, a hand to hand fight between Kirk and Khan loses a bit of its intensity when it looks like they both have blank expressions on their face. The fight choreography is pretty clear, with each blow landing in a decisive illustration, but the character models themselves just feel kind of off in some sequences.
When they’re on point, though, they are on point. There were a few moments when the likenesses of William Shatner and other cast members are crystal clear. In particular, Khan feels every bit the way that Ricardo Montalban inhabited the character, stately in every moment — until his patience is tested. The character’s body language is always exactly right, almost making me wish I could see this story play out on screen.
Candice Han works wonders with the colors in this issue. The previously mentioned starship explosion is impressively detailed, contrasting the bright flames against the inky purples of the surrounding space.
Star Trek: Hell’s Mirror tells a compelling story about the different ways in which people can pursue power and how they can lose their way, even with the best of intentions. It also shows that there’s a sliver of humanity in even the darkest times. Even for a story as grim as this one gets, there’s still a slight bit of that ray of hope that shines in every great Star Trek story.